Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Throwing Down the Words - An Interview with Nic Brown

Plan D: I know you primarily as a co-host of The B-Movie Cast (http://bmoviecast.com/) where you're always introduced as the webmaster behind the website B Movie Man (http://bmovieman.com). In addition to obviously being a fan of b-movies (and there's definitely nothing wrong with that!), who is Nic Brown?

Nic: That’s a good question and as soon as I figure it out I’ll let you know! I will say that it took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I want to be a writer and I want to pursue more creative endeavors. To that end, I’ve written two books that I independently published, and I have a novella coming out in March of 2012 through Muse It Up Publishing called A Grave St. Patrick’s Day. Plus I’m working on a book project with my wife Fiona as well. I’m also producing a dramatic web series called "Girl/Girl Scene" (http://www.girlgirlscene.com/) with show creator Tucky Williams and director/cinematographer/editor Eric Butts. That’s been a lot of fun and very different from my interests in the worlds of writing and B-Movies.

D: What led you to writing?

N: I’ve been a fan of horror as long as I can remember, watching the old B-Movie classics and getting scared to death by them. I decided I wanted to start writing while I was in college, but I never really pursued it. Then after I graduated, I spent three years working as an English teacher in Japan. During that time, I had the opportunity to write for an monthly English-language magazine and I developed a taste for it. But when I came back to the states, I had to focus on other things, and again my writing slipped into the dusty motes in the back of my mind. Then about five years ago I did something new. I went to my first horror convention, the Texas Frightmare Weekend, and I got inspired. However, I wasn’t ready to just sit down and write a novel, so I started Bmovieman.com so I could learn to write while writing about things I like. A year later, I started work on Blood Curse and the rest is history . . . well, except for what hasn’t happened yet!

D: What can you tell us about Michael Warren, your "werewolf for hire?"

N: Michael Warren is a werewolf. He’s also a partner in Dark Cloud Investigations with Tabitha and Sam Edwards (she’s a witch and he’s an IT guy). Unlike most werewolf mythos, my werewolves are a bit more in control. They don’t see being a Were as a curse; it’s just another aspect of their lives. However, the Were aspect isn’t without its issues. The wolf aspect of Michael is always there in the back of his mind and he has to work to keep it from dominating him. Think about it like this: there is no such thing as a “good” wolf or a “bad” wolf. The concept of good and evil doesn’t apply to animals. So the wolf in Michael is always pushing him to deal with the world the way a wolf would. See an enemy, kill it. Like a woman, take her if you can. It’s a simplified view of world and it would be easy for Michael to give into it, but he knows that if he does then he may stop being a man who becomes a wolf and turn into a wolf who can become a man. Oh, and he likes to play videogames in his spare time.

D: Was it always your intention to write Blood Sacrifice, your follow-up to Blood Curse?

N: When I started Blood Curse, I had the idea for at least two more books floating around in my head, but it wasn’t until I finished the first book that I could let myself think about the second. Also, even though I knew the basic plot of Blood Sacrifice, it wasn’t until I went to England with my wife Fiona for her sister’s wedding that I got inspired to set the book in Kent, the county where she’s from on the south eastern coast of England. I’ve got the third book rattling around in my head and some of it has even managed to fall out and land in a document on my computer. However, I’m taking my time with the third book because I have a lot of other projects I’m working on and Michael Warren and his friends aren’t going anywhere without me.

D: Podcast listeners know me as a "zombie guy" or "Hammer Films guy," and my experience with werewolf literature is extremely limited. Does the werewolf have as rich a literary heritage as the vampire or other classic monsters?

N: Legends of werewolves have been around for thousands of years. Greek and Roman mythology both have their stories, as does ancient China and the Native peoples of North America. But vampires kind of got an edge in the literary world when Bram Stoker’s Dracula became a hit. There isn’t any one book or story that I can think of prior to the arrival of the werewolf in cinema that defined the legend the way it did for the vampire. Still, if you want some interesting reading there are a number of books that collect some of the key stories from around the world. Werewolves by Jon Izzard and The Werewolf Handbook: An Essential Guide to Werewolves and, More Importantly, How to Avoid Them by Bob Curran are two good ones to check out.

D: What are some of your favorite werewolf stories (film, novels, short stories, etc.)?

N: I’m a sucker for a good werewolf movie and some of my favorites are:
Dog Soldiers, An American Werewolf in London, 1941's The Wolf Man, Brotherhood of the Wolf (that one I get into arguments about all the time regarding whether it’s a werewolf movie or not, but I’m going to stick by my guns with it) and The Howling. As for novels and such, there is a writer named Martin Millar who’s written two werewolf books that I love: Lonely Werewolf Girl and The Curse of the Wolf Girl. I also like Stephen King’s Cycle of the Werewolf, and my friend John Catapano put me onto a really fun comic book . . . err I mean graphic novel . . . called Bubba The Redneck Werewolf by Mitch Hyman, Shawn Surface and Frank Turner.

D: Who influences you most as a writer?

N: That is a very tough question because I’ve been reading as long as I can remember. My first real taste of horror fiction came when I was about twelve and started reading Stephen King (without my mother’s knowledge, I might add). So I’d have to say he put the bug in my ear about writing. I think Jim Butcher and John Ringo are the two who most directly influence my work. Butcher really has a good style for writing the “first person” novel and I like the way his work flows. Then you’ve got John Ringo and he knows how to pen an action sequence. Finally, I have to give a nod to Harper Lee. I think To Kill A Mockingbird is one of the best books ever written and I hope that some tiny bit of her influence comes through when I write.

D: What are you currently reading?

N: I recently finished Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, which is excellent. I’m currently in the middle of two books: Not Bad For A Human by Lance Henricksen and Joseph Maddrey, and I’m also reading Becoming Nadia by Cyrus Keith. After those, I have about ten books in my kindle I need to read and almost as many stacked up beside my desk!

D: And what's next for you? More Werewolf for Hire novels?

N: Well I mentioned my novella A Grave St. Patrick’s Day coming out in March, that is going to be the first in a series of short (10,000–20,000 word) stories about a new character I’m developing named Stuart Boling. He’s a regular guy who finds himself dragged into dealing with the hidden world of the supernatural. I’m also working on a project now with my wife Fiona; we’re putting together a book on the history of werewolves in cinema and that is proving to be a lot of fun. Plus it gives me an excuse to sit and watch werewolf movies.

As for Werewolf for Hire, like I said earlier, I am working on the next book in that series as well. However, that one is taking a bit of a back seat to my other projects at the moment, but don’t worry - Michael will be back!

Blood Curse: Werewolf for Hire and Blood Sacrifice: A Werewolf for Hire novel are available for order and purchase via Amazon and other online retailers. Both books are also available in e-format. Nic Brown can be heard nearly every week on The B-Movie Cast and online at his own website B Movie Man.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Them's the breaks

I've changed gears a bit.

I've learned that my brain doesn't like to stay on one story from start to finish without trying to shove two or three other projects in the way. This is something I've fought over the years, usually with little success. While I've been trying to come up with a work around for these most recent "YOU-MUST-WRITE-THIS-STORY-INSTEAD-RIGHT-NOW" signals from my brain, I thought back to how I've best dealt with it in the past.

And I realized I've never successfully dealt with this problem at all. My more recent selling stories have been works I've started, took a break from, worked on something, then came back to them to finish them up. More often than not, I'm able to complete something only after having taken a break from it. Instead of fighting this, I'm embracing it.

Does that mean my novella is on hold? No. I'm still working on it. And I'm having a lot of fun with it. The three main characters are characters I've come to care about, and I'm finding I'm able to slip into their points of view with little-to-no hesitation . . . which makes it exciting for me to revisit any of these three people every time I start a new chapter or viewpoint section in the work-in-progress.

And I'll be doing that as I bang out the words for a different project . . .

. . . that I technically started a couple of years ago, and now the fire for THIS one is burning me up, so I need to finish IT.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Post-(vegetarian)-Thanksgiving report

I'm on Day Three of a Five-Day Weekend, partially due to Thanksgiving and partially because we're taking Brenda to the hospital on Monday for the first of a new-for-us treatment for her rheumatoid arthritis. We did the Thanksgiving Day meal, the connecting with friends and family via phone, text messaging and XBOX Video Kinect (although XBOX failed us last night for any kind of connecting-with-friends - curses!), the watching the online deals for whatever we just can't live without (didn't find much outside of a killer deal on AA batteries), and our ACTUAL weekend begins today with the normal "weekend stuff" we normally do.

I want to take a moment to talk about our Thanksgiving Day meal. We're vegetarians, and Brenda has developed an intolerance for gluten (it messes with her RA quite a bit), so we get the normal ribbing and joking from friends and family around this time of year about what we can or can't eat.

We do just fine. We're not losing out. You're not "winning" over what we do. We do our own thing and we're good.

Before we became vegetarians, we did the turkey-at-Thanksgiving thing. And it was fine. Except for the clean-up. Man, that part SUCKED. And because we have no family in the Pacific Northwest and all our friends had their own family-things going on, we typically had too many leftovers. I always hated to let it happen, but we had food go bad in the refrigerator. We were wasteful people.

We've been vegetarians for going on eight years now (it was a journey as we still ate the occasional seafood, but I'm no longer even pescatarian at this point), and we've settled into a decent groove for these big holiday meals at home. We don't have to buy a turkey and spend all day preparing and cooking it. We don't have to deal with the cost, time and headache involved in buying all the fixin's needed for the big turkey/ham/turducken/whatgever. For those who might miss the hours spent in the kitchen cooking up all the traditional "stuff," maybe that's something they'd miss. We don't. We spend a couple hours getting the pumpkin pies, the garlic mashed potatoes, the green bean casserole (made with gluten-free soup!) and all the rest ready, and that's it.

We do pick up a Hazelnut Cranberry Roast En Croute from the Field Roast Grain Meat Company, and that just needs some thawing and baking time, but that can happen while we're getting the pecan pie mixture ready to go.

The foods great. The clean-up is easy. There are leftovers (the Field Roast makes a yummy breakfast!). And we're good.

We (also) win.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Well, at least I TRIED something different

I tried something different this time around. I got it in my head that I was going to outline my work-in-progress - a novella I was hoping would clock in around 40,000 words. This WIP is the longest piece I've attempted in a long time, and I wanted to approach it with a detailed outline, breaking down each chapter, plotting the hell out of the story before sitting down to write Word One.

It took me writing and then completely jettisoning Chapter One, and then just letting the prose take me where it would go without my trying to force it to show me that this technique just isn't going to work for me.

For a brief moment, I felt overwhelmed. I've got a 40,000-word piece and now I don't have a road map! I have three main characters I know fairly well, a working title, and a basic set up in mind, but now the story could go anywhere whether I want it to or not.

That moment of panic is gone. Now? I'm having a LOT of fun just spending time with these characters and enjoying what they're doing, saying, feeling, etc.

Do I think this piece will end up 40,000 words? I don't know. I know it will be longer than a short story, and not as long as a novel, so technically, it's still going to be a "novella," right?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Throwing Down the Words - An Interview with Edward J. Russell

When I first met writer Edward J. Russell, I knew him as "Lord Dward," one of the co-hosts of the podcast Plan Nine From Cyberspace. He's since retired from podcast production, and in early 2011, he released his first novel The Dead Infested: Second Bane. (And if you ever meet him at a con, you'll have to ask him about Golden Corral.)

Plan D:We're about to meet Edward-J.-Russell-the-writer. Before that, can you tell us a little bit about your background?

Edward J. Russell: My background? Well, I was born and raised in Indiana, and joined the Army straight out of high school. In fact I left for basic training four days after graduation. I some how lucked out and spent most of my time in the Army stationed in Florida and Hawaii. When I left the service, I lived in Arizona for a few years before feeling the call to come back home to Indiana.

D: What led you to first put pen-to-paper or fingers-to-keyboard?

E: Dissatisfaction with some of the things I was reading. I read constantly as a kid and while I am a slow reader, I have devoured tons of books. Early on in school, I enjoyed making up my own stories, most of which ended up with the main misunderstood character getting the girl. Mainly I just have that inner need to create and that is something that builds up and has to be let out from time to time.

D: Describe The Dead Infested: Second Bane.

E: Second Bane is the poorly-titled first book in a trilogy that follows the struggles of various survivors trying to cope in a world where the zombies have taken the upper hand. I skipped right past the outbreak and initial fight for survival, and focused on a few groups or factions and how they try to maintain some sense of traditional society in a world where law and order no longer exist.

D: Why zombies?

E: Because zombies are so much more fun to play with. You have a little more freedom to make your own rules without just instantly turning off the readers. I like zombies because they are an all over menace that can function any time of day in almost any habitat, yet it still remains plausible that pockets of humanity could still survive. To me, you cannot really have that with mass numbers of vampires or even werewolves.

D: What is your zombie background? Favorite books or stories? Favorite movies?

E: I started with Night of the Living Dead, which was shown countless times as a Friday night or Saturday afternoon monster movie and I still enjoy that movie to this day. I still love Return of the Living Dead along with Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead. Book-wise, I have found something to enjoy in just about every zombie book I have read. I really enjoyed David Wellington's series and I am currently getting a kick out of John A. Allen's Fried Green Zombies and Tony Faville's Avery Nolan: Private Dick of the Dead. (D: We just interviewed Tony Faville here.)

D: How have these favorites influenced your writing?

E: That's a little harder to say. I am certain that there has been influence but not sure I would recognize it.

D: You're an independent author. What lessons have you learned producing your book and making it available for purchase?

E: Writing the book is the fun and easy part. The difficult part is getting people to notice and, with luck, read the book. As you know there is so much media out there that books are competing with that getting anyone's attention takes a lot of work and time.

D: You've also sold your book at conventions. How has this experience been?

E: For the most part that is a lot of fun, although you have to be prepared for a lot of rejection. Most people are very nice and some will take a few minutes to look at the book but no one comes to a convention to see me. They are there to see the celebs and icons they are already familar with so if they stop and say, "Hi," to me, I count that as a win.

D: What is the strangest reaction you've had to The Dead Infested: Second Bane?

E: A lady bought my book at a HorrorHound Weekend, and then came to my table at the Days of the Dead convention later that year and told me her son loved the book. She told me it was his favorite and he even wrote a book report about that. That made my day!

D: What are you currently reading?

E: In addition to Avery Nolan: Private Dick of the Dead and Fried Green Zombies, I'm reading Scott Sigler's The Starter.

D: And what's next for you writing-wise?

E: I have two projects I am bouncing back and forth between. One is the second book in the Dead Infested series and the other is more of a young adult zombie book that I am trying to make more funny than scary.

The Dead Infested: Second Bane is available online in both print and e-format by going to the book's website at http://www.thedeadinfested.com. The Dead Infested: Second Bane also has a Facebook page. The Dead Infested: Second Bane can also be found at/ordered through some traditional brick-and-mortar bookstores. (Edward can sometimes be found at Golden Corral restaurant.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Thursday Thirteen: Non-Horror Movies


The Thursday Thirteen is a recurring feature here at Plan D in which I post a list of 13 items/movies/books/etc. of any given category. The category this time around? I'm known as a "horror-and-zombie guy" in the podosphere/blogosphere, so I thought it would be interesting to post My Top 13 Non-Horror Movies (in no particular order).


Raiders of the Lost Ark (dir. Steven Spielberg)


Matinee (dir. Joe Dante)


The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (dir. W. D. Richter)


The Thin Man (dir. W. S. Van Dyke)


Double Indemnity (dir. Billy Wilder)


Winchester '73 (dir. Anthony Mann)


North by Northwest (dir. Alfred Hitchcock)


Back to the Future (dir. Robert Zemeckis)


Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (dir. Steven Spielberg)


Big Trouble in Little China (dir. John Carpenter)


Conan the Barbarian (1982) (dir. John Milius)


Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (dir. Nicholas Meyer)


The Whole Wide World (dir. Dan Ireland)


(Have a suggestion for a future topic of The Thursday Thirteen? Email me at MailOrderZombie@gmail.com . . . )

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Post-Halloween glow

It's been about a week since Halloween, and I'm still holding on to that Halloween glow. Christmas sales commercials have started popping up on TV; Christmas ads have slowly been making their way to my mailbox, but I'm not ready to give it up. I'm still listening to horror music on my iPod all day. I'm still eating Franken Berry and I still have monster "stuff" up on my desk at work. (Granted, this is typically how I live my life anyway, but still . . . )

Halloween this year was different for me. I haven't dressed up in costume and make-up for work for the past few years (ever since they stopped doing the costume contest . . . ), and last year, I didn't touch the make-up at all. I missed it a little, but I'm sure Brenda was happy to not have fake blood staining the bathroom and/or kitchen sink for once! This year, I didn't make myself up either, but I did play with liquid latex and the trimmings when I helped Brenda's 12 co-workers dress up as zombies for their work Halloween celebration/costume contest.

It's been a long time since I've made up other people, and while I don't know if I'm 100% satisfied with the results of my own work, Brenda's team won, and we all had a good time, so I'll chalk that up as a "win!" (When I mentioned this on Twitter & Facebook, some folks asked for pictures, but as I don't really know a lot of Brenda's co-workers, I didn't think it was appropriate for me to just start posting pictures of them, so no pics, but I swear, it DID happen . . . !)

The Saturday before Halloween, Brenda and I went to a Halloween party hosted by one of her co-workers. I DID dress up for this party, and it was the first time in YEARS that I dressed up as something non-horror.

(Tangent time. Here's the thing - I've been against dressing up as something non-horror for Halloween for YEARS. I wish I still had it, but I have strong memories of writing an essay in grade school - it would have been when I was living in Great Falls, MT, so it would have been sometime between 2nd and 5th Grade - in which I railed against little girls dressing up as princesses for Halloween. I wrote that Halloween should be about celebrating the monsters, namedropping Lugosi, Chaney and Karloff, and that dressing up as cute or fun is somehow against the idea of Halloween. I was, apparently, a know-it-all brat of a kid . . . once . . . anyway . . . )

This party had a theme of "historical figures," so Bren and I came up with the idea of dressing up as Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan (respectively - don't be silly). We put her in a flight suit, a flight cap and a pair of goggles, and since all the pictures we could find of Noonan were pretty much just him in a dark shirt and tie, I got off easy costume-wise.

While I've softened a bit over the years, I still think that you can have a theme party or masquerade party any time of the year, so let Halloween be about the dark and spooky (dress up as your princesses, your nurses, your medieval whatever, your pirates, your superheroes, your Transformers, your whatever any other time of the year for any other theme party!); I was happy when one of the themes of this group's Halloween party next year will be "Horror" ("Heavy Metal" was also picked as an accompanying theme, but I think everyone knows how I'm going to approach our costumes for that party!).

Back to Halloween day itself - after spending a few hours at Brenda's work making sure everyone was happy with their make-up, I came home, cleaned up and watched Scars of Dracula. I had a few other movies picked out to watch afterward for an at-home movie marathon, but ended up writing instead, which was just fine. I picked up Brenda from work later that day, after she got cleaned up, she agreed to watch a horror flick with me, so we saw Paranormal Activity 3.

Meh.

Then we caught up on "American Horror Story."

Ummm . . . still working through all my thoughts on that one.

And that was Halloween.

All in all, it was a good Halloween for me. Next year, I'm looking forward to dressing up proper, though, and I've got some ideas for some things . . . not just for that Heavy Metal and/or Horror theme party, but overall. I don't know if I'll come into work dressed up or not, or if I'll take that whole day off again, but I definitely want to get the liquid latex out and get to work. (And, yes, I have plenty of leftover liquid latex from the zombie-work I did at Brenda's job . . . !)

Friday, November 4, 2011

An Open Letter to General Mills

Every October, I make a point of going to the grocery store more often than any other month. My household stocks up on Halloween candy and Halloween decorations, but when I go to my local Safeway, Albertson's or Target, I spend more time in the cereal aisle than anywhere else because this is the time of year during which I stock up on Franken Berry, Count Chocula and Boo Berry (not necessarily in that order).

As a horror and monster movie fan, these cereals appeal to more than just my taste buds, and I'm used to stocking up on the cereal during the Halloween season. I understand the economics involved in producing and distributing a monster-themed cereal year-round, and this loading-up-my-cupboards-with-Franken-Berry has become a yearly tradition. I'm not asking you to make the cereal available year-round.

Instead, I'd like to propose something else.

Retro.

Mountain Dew. Taco Flavor Doritos. These two products are also in my cupboards now, even though they weren't regularly as recently as five years ago even though I used to consume these items when I was younger (probably more than my parents would have liked!). Part of the appeal in these retro products for me now is the packaging; there's something comforting about the retro design of the Taco Flavor Doritoes that probably has driven me to buy these tortilla chips more than anything else.

Within the monster fan community, your three monster cereal mascots are iconic (and even Fruit Brute and Fruity Yummy Mummy have been given life as bobblehead figures), and while there are licensed products (like the aforementioned bobbleheads) featuring these characters, the cereal boxes themselves are, to be blunt, somewhat dull. They disappear on the shelf with other brightly colored cereal packages and speak nothing to their place in both pop culture and cereal history. (Count Chocula was the first chocolate cereal with chocolate bits and Boo Berry was sold as the first blueberry-flavored cereal.)

Fans of Quaker Oats' Cap'n Crunch have had the opportunity to enjoy retro packaging of the cereal or even buy a retro-style adult t-shirt. These products are clearly aimed at adults, and it is the adults that would make creating retro-style packaging for General Mills' monster cereals a success.

Please, General Mills, consider making this fan of your cereal even more of a fan next year. Create retro boxes for your monster cereals, and not only will monster cereal fans stock up on the cereal to eat until the following Halloween, but we'll stock up on these collectible boxes.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm about to finish off a box of Franken Berry.

Sincerely,

Derek M. Koch

(PS - Any thoughts about a Limited Edition run of Fruit Brute or Fruity Yummy Mummy in the retro style?)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Thursday Thirteen: My Movies for Halloween


During my film school days, I spent a lot of time holed up in my dorm room, watching movies. This, I suppose, wasn't the best use of my student loan money. Although, to be fair, a lot of that student loan money did go to renting movies from the video store across the street. The people who ran that video store (whose name I've long forgotten) knew they were across the street from a university with a film program and stocked their shelves accordingly. This was during the later days of VHS, and before film school, growing up in Cheyenne, WY, restricted my access to a lot of movies I'd later discover while attending MSU, so I suppose TECHNICALLY any student loan money I blew at that video store DID go toward my film education! Anyway . . .

I spent a lot of time watching movies in my dorm room, and I'd always invite my friends over for mini-movie-marathons. One Halloween, a friend and I spent the entire day watching nothing but horror flicks, only taking breaks for meals and bathroom runs. I remember we started the run in the morning with a few episodes of "The Muppet Show" (one featuring Vincent Price and one featuring Alice Cooper), and we wrapped with I Was A Teenage Werewolf.

Some of the other movies we watched that day/night are still movies I'd watch during the Halloween season, whether I'm doing an in-for-the-long-haul movie marathon or just looking for a movie to pop in after work, before work, to watch on my iPod on the way into work, when I should be sleeping, eating, etc., etc., etc. Granted, I watch a lot of horror movies during the lesser months of the year, too, but this Thursday Thirteen are the 13 horror films that immediately put me in a Halloween mood (not because they're specifically set during Halloween or even reference Halloween - they just get my spooky juices going more than most other horror flicks).

In no particular order . . .

1. Prince of Darkness (dir. John Carpenter). The score and the location are enough to put me in the proper Halloween mood. Sure, the performances, the storytelling and the moustaches have grown a little dated over the years, but that's going to happen with any film. Even though the film is set in the 80s and the film refers to 1999 as "the future," Prince of Darkness still delivers me the goods no matter how many times I watch it.

2. Dawn of the Dead (dir. George A. Romero). It's a zombie film. I'm a zombie guy. Go figure. But why Dawn... over Day... (my current favorite of Romero's films)? Every once and a while, a sense of playfulness creeps into Dawn of the Dead (and I'm not just talking about the pie fight), and while I do like a sense of overwhelming dread in a lot of my horror media, Halloween can call for a little bit of fun, too.

3. Neon Maniacs (dir. Joseph Mangine). Two words. Guilty. Pleasure. Look . . . I'm painfully aware of this film's faults, but back in junior high school when I had to sneak around and record horror movies off the USA Network on the TV in the basement where my parents didn't monitor what I watched nearly as much, this became one of the movies I watched over and over AND OVER again. Maybe because I had to sneak around to watch it when I was a kid, I still have a sense of "I-shouldn't-be-watching-it" whenever I put this DVD in now, and a touch of the forbidden is more than welcome during my Halloween.

4. Phantasm (dir. Don Coscarelli). More mood, more atmosphere, a touch of manufactured nostalgia . . . and The Tall Man. I love the entire Phantasm franchise, but the first film is my favorite this time of year. The score fits the season so well, and the slow-motion images of The Tall Man huffing the cool air of Reggie's ice cream truck . . . ? Somehow, it's a perfect fit.

5. Midnight Movie (dir. Jack Messitt). A film that should not be watched is the device that gets this story rolling. Sure, it treads a little bit on Demons territory this way, but instead of going with . . . um . . . demons . . . Midnight Movie becomes a slasher film with a fun mix of characters. As for the slasher himself? His signature weapon is a little goofy, but a lot unique, which helps to make this movie more interesting to watch than just-another-slasher. The film doesn't become too self-aware like a lot of slashers post-Scream, despite the film's strong film-geek presence. (That reminds me . . . I need to pick Midnight Movie up on Blu-ray at some point soon!)

6. Anything with a host. This could be an anthology movie with a built-in horror host or a movie presented by a horror host (ala Midnite Mausoleum, Count Gore De Vol or any of the programming over at The Monster Channel).

7. The Monster Squad (dir. Fred Dekker). I wanted to see this movie SOOOOO bad when it first hit theaters in 1987, but it was not to be. I rented it on VHS numerous times, and eventually bought it on tape for myself. Of course now, I have it on Blu-ray. I love this movie. The kids that make up the "Monster Squad" were the kind of kids I wanted to have as friends growing up, or at least go trick-or-treating with! (I used to spend time in school drawing pictures of monsters - I just never had a Mrs. Carlsen to contend with.) Duncan Regehr's Dracula is one of the most underrated portrayals of the vampire, and the moment in the film in which he's walking through a handful of cops to get to Phoebe never fails to send a chill up my back.

(A few years ago, I decided I needed to have the song "Rock Until You Drop" on my iPod. At the time - and I don't know if this is still the case - there wasn't an official CD release of this song, so I did some Google'ing, found the website of the song's producer, Michael Sembello, and sent him an email. I asked him if he was aware of an official release of the song and told him I'd be happy to buy the CD. His response? He sent me an email with an .mp3 attachment of the song.)

8. Plan 9 From Outer Space (dir. Edward D. Wood, Jr.). Yeah, I know. Plan 9.... It's a rather incompetent film, but its heart more than shines through. Besides, I've visited haunted houses with worse production values. Normally, I don't like to mix my aliens and outer space and sci-fi stuff in with my horror for Halloween, but . . . I mean, come on. It's Plan 9 From Outer Space!

9 and 10. Any of the Universal monster films from 1939 on. Now don't get me wrong - I have a lot of love and respect for Universal's Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy. But let's be honest - as great as the 30s Universal horror films are, this was also a learning period for the Universal Monster Machine. With Son of Frankenstein, Universal hit their stride, and while the later House of... do have some rough edges, they're still fun monster romps.

10. Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (dir. Seth Holt). Hammer Films historian and author Marcus Kearns said, "A Mummy film is a proto-slasher film." That makes a mummy film sound appropriate for Halloween, doesn't it? I've been in a "mummy mood" lately (I need to talk with Scott and Casey to see if we can cover one of Hammer's mummy films on 1951 Down Place sometime soon!), and while I'll never turn down a Peter Cushing film like Hammer's first Mummy picture (I'm including Universal's Mummy films in my previous entry), Blood from the Mummy's Tomb really brings a supernatural threat that hangs heavy over the characters and the story in the film. While the mummy action is decidedly a little light in this one, I still enjoy the creepy pseudo-Egyptology scares, and I'd love to go trick-or-treating with Valerie Leon.

11& 12. Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI (dir. Tom McLoughlin) and Friday the 13th VII: The New Blood (dir. John Carl Buechler). I'm an unabashed "Friday the 13th" fan, and my favorite films in the franchise come later in the series when Jason Voorhees' character is definitively a (non-zombie) supernatural character. When the seventh installment hit, all the cylinders are firing - C. J. Graham and Kane Hodder are playing Jason to perfection; the series is still paying attention to the earlier films by connecting ...New Blood's events to things that happened going possibly as far back as pre-A New Beginning, and Tommy's arc, started in The Final Chapter comes to satisfying end in Jason Lives; and while I've always preferred Jason over Freddy, ...New Blood did tap into some of the fun that movies like Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors brought with its own super-power teen character (who didn't need to dream to manifest her abilities!).

13. Halloween (dir. John Carpenter). I don't think I have to really say anything about this film being an ANY Halloween movies list.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Throwing Down the Words - An Interview with Tony Faville

Tony Faville has worn many hats over the years - military, culinary, etc. - and in 2009, he donned a writer's cap* when he self-published his first novel, Kings of the Dead. He agreed to take some time away from getting ready to attend a horror convention to answer a few questions in this inaugural installment of a new semi-regular writer-interview feature here at Plan D called Throwing Down the Words.

*I can neither confirm nor deny whether or not Tony actually wears a physical "cap." He's probably more of a Real Deal Brazilian tarp hat kind of guy.

Plan D: What led you to first put pen-to-paper or fingers-to-keyboard?

Tony Faville: I first wrote a few stories back when I was wooing my wife in the late 90s, but I never really did anything further with it. It was not until 2009 that she told me about this writing competition that takes place every November, and if I "won," I could get a free proof copy of the piece of work I did. So, I thought it would be cool to have a book on the shelves with my name on it, and set to work.

D: And this led to Kings of the Dead. What can you tell us about Kings…?

T: Kings of the Dead was written in the journal format, and yes, before you even say it, journals have been done to death. I agree. They have been done to death, and they have been done wrong. How many times have you written a journal where you entered all of the dialogue from everyone you interacted with in your journal at the end of the day? Yeah, I didn't think so. No, this one is written in a more pure journal format than any of the other zombie journals out there. With that out of the way, it is a journal written by my protagonist and it keeps a record of the events of his group of survivors that called themselves the Kings of the Dead. Problem is, they forgot about the human factor, and what living day to day life in a land of the dead will do to you, mentally and physically.

D: How would you describe your next book, Avery Nolan: Private Dick of the Dead?

T: Avery Nolan is a homage piece in recognition of the pulp fiction, hard-boiled detective stories of the 1950s and 1960s. Written in the classic noir style, I created a character that is a Lucky Strike-smoking, scotch-drinking, hard-fighting, straight-shooting former Marine from World War Two that went on to become a New York City Police Officer, and then ultimately a Private Investigator/Detective (also referred to as a Private Dick). Avery is hired by a woman to find her father who has gone missing. While on the case, he has a run in with zombies, the KGB and the FBI.

D: Why zombies?

T: Because zombies are cool, man! And because they are the best universal bad guy that can be placed into any situation, and work.

D: What is your zombie background? Favorite books or stories? Favorite movies?

T: I have been a fan of the zombie genre since I was a young kid, like 11 or 12, when I first saw Dawn of the Dead. A few years later, Night of the Comet caught my attention, and it just grew from there. These days, I find myself more drawn to the original Day of the Dead from 1985 for a favorite because it gives us all of the elements that makes for a really great zombie story. As for stories or books, I am a big fan of Jonathan Maberry's work, and World War Z by Max Brooks is a fantastic story as well. With that being said, any respectable zombie collection is not complete without the fantastic The Walking Dead series by Robert Kirkman.

D: How have these favorites influenced your writing?

T: You know, it's mostly with the basic concept of the zombies themselves. There has been such a huge influx of zombie tales in recent years that you can hardly write anything without someone else already having thought about it and done it.

D: You're an independent author. What lessons have you learned producing your book and making it available for purchase?

T: Make sure you have your work edited, and not by someone close to you, but by someone that actually knows what they are doing. That is the number one thing that consumers will crucify you for, having an unedited book. Add in the fact that there are still some short-sighted individuals out there that are not willing to accept the whole self-publishing concept and are clinging desperately to what is a floundering publishing industry as being the ONLY way to release a book. Now, let me clarify why I say floundering. Can you really respect an industry that gives someone like Snooki a publishing contract? Sure, it was smart business, there is no doubt they made a buttload of money off of that deal. But if the publishing industry cared as much about books as some consumers would lead us to believe based on their views on self-publishing, then people like Snooki would NEVER get a publishing contract.

D: Kings of the Dead, started as a self-published book and has since been published by Permuted Press. What led to this, and how would you describe the difference between writing/publishing independently and working with a publisher?

T: Well, after about a year of selling it as a self-published title, a friend of mine contacted Permuted Press and suggested they take a look at the book. A short time later I received an email from Permuted saying they had heard about Kings..., and wanted to know if I would be interested in publishing it through them if they found it to be something they would like. Now, Permuted is actually the ONE publisher I had told my wife I would sign with if they ever came knocking. So of course I said yes, and talked to them about it. They asked if I would be willing to do a rewrite of Kings..., since they usually go for books that are a little bit bigger. I started rewriting it, and after a few weeks of enlarging it by over 30%, I sent it off to my editor. When she was done, she forwarded it over to Permuted, and a few weeks later I received a copy of my first publishing contract in the mail. Since that time, the audio rights have been picked up by audible.com, and they are hard at work turning Kings... into an audio book.

D: What is the strangest reaction you've had to either Kings of the Dead or Avery Nolan: Private Dick of the Dead?

T: Honestly, I think the strangest reaction has been with Avery Nolan..., and that is the fact that people are not taking a chance on the story. Every person that has read it, has loved the concept, loved the character, loved the story, and hoped for more from Avery Nolan. Problem is, sales have been incredibly disappointing and I am at an absolute loss as to why. What I have noticed though, is that there have been more than a few people that had a "problem" with the word "dick" in the title. And that tells me that they have completely missed the entire concept of the book. In a noir, or hard-boiled detective story, Dick means Detective, so calling someone a Private Dick is nothing more than calling them a Private Detective. If that is truly the reason why Avery is not selling, then I will just have to live without the sales because I will not change the title in order to satisfy some weird obsession with the word "dick."

D: What are you currently reading?

T: I have to admit, I have very little time for reading other zombie books, and instead have been spending some time revisiting a series of books from my childhood, Don Pendleton's "The Executioner" series. Yeah, I know they were trash action books, but by God, I loved them.

D: What is your writing process? Do you outline, or fly by the seat of your pants?

T: When I first wrote Kings..., it was purely by the seat of my pants, and I found that to be a harrowing experience. Since then, I attempt to at the very least have my base cast of characters laid out along with key events including the basic ending. Once I have that ground work laid out, then it is time to write. However, I still find myself jotting down things that come to mind during the day that I think would be a nice touch to the story.

D: And what's next for you writing-wise?

T: I have a handful of works in progress that I really need to nail down the time in order to finish them. Life has been hectic lately with a serious hospitalization of my wife a few months ago, and I have not sat down and made any true effort to write anything. With that being said, I do have another Avery Nolan story I am working on with a start that throws one heck of a twist into things, but also blows some doors open for me in the Avery Nolan universe. Now I just need to get the motivation in place to make it happen.

Tony can be found online at Tony Faville, A boy and his blog at http://tonyfaville.com/, and this weekend, he can be found at Seattle's ZomBCon where he'll be joining his fellow Permuted Press authors. Kings of the Dead and Avery Nolan: Private Dick of the Dead can be found online in both print and e-format; they can also be found at/ordered through some traditional brick-and-mortar bookstores.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The 2011 Portland H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival Wrap-Up, Part Two


The second day of the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival started the same way - a gathering at Magnolia's beforehand (this time for a scheduled reading with author Jenna M. Pitman that I missed out on as I ended up writing a bit myself while waiting outside the Hollywood - hey, when the muse calls, one must answer!), a long line forming in front of the Hollywood and another sold out night.

The Shorts Block began with a repeat showing of Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" before a recorded message from Roger Corman as he was presented with this year's Howie Award for his contribution to Lovecraft cinema. He told an abbreviated story of the events that led to his 1963 film The Haunted Palace being promoted as an Edgar Allen Poe film upon its initial release even though it's clearly derived from the original Lovecraft story "The Cast of Charles Dexter Ward." (A lot of this was also covered in the special feature A Change of Poe from the DVD release of The Haunted Palace.) The short films included:

The Window Into Time (dir. Thomas Nicol) - This was one of my personal favorites of the festival. William Kephart plays Dr. Schenker, a scientist working with an old classmate . . . in a lab . . . studying old formulas and old books . . . with conequences involving an encounter with things from another world. This is a period piece, set sometime within the past forty-or-so years (in the days of reel-to-reel personal tape recording), and handles this period setting gracefully. It's not over-the-top in design or performance. It easily could have been a film that's been locked away somewhere for the past forty years and just recently dusted off for the festival.

Haselwurm (dir. Eugenio Vallani) - This was interesting, had some good-looking monster effects, but ultimately I think will suffer with most American audiences. It's steeped deep with a "rural legend" story of Italy by way of Lovecraft, and while I don't have a problem with foreign films, I feel Haselwurm short 16-minute running time didn't give us enough time to bridge the culture gap.

Black Goat (dir. Joseph Nanni) - This short was slick, it looked good, it "felt" good . . . but it was a little empty. The HPLFF program included a synopsis for each of the shorts, and the blurb about Black Goat gave us more story than the film itself did. What ended up on screen felt like the opening of a longer film I'd LOVE to watch, but it ended just as it was getting good! The film's website - http://blackgoat.ca - tells us there's a feature on the way, and if it's as engaging as this taste was, it should be good! (I just wish there was something in this short proper to indicate that it actually was just a teaser!)

The Island (dir. Nathan Fisher) - Less Lovecraftian and more post-apocalyptic, The Island tells the story of a man who's managed to find a bomb shelter while the rest of the world struggles to survive in a world overrun by . . . something. It's never quite explained, and that's okay, because that's not what the story's about. The story is about how this man reacts when a woman comes banging on his door for help . . . and how she reacts when he doesn't turn out to be the hero she was expecting . . . and then how he deals with that!

Static Aeons (dir. Gib Patterson) - There didn't seem to be a lot of animation this year. There were the stop-motion pieces, Call of Nature and this one. With most animation, it's possible to put anything on screen ; there aren't any real-world budgetary restrictions. What's interesting here is that Patterson didn't let this "anything goes" approach creep into Static Aeons. The short is a series of images depicting an empty earth after the worst of Lovecraft's bestiary has had its way with humanity while a single narrator provides an epitaph for all mankind. It's a restrained bit of storytelling that left the audience with a sense of dread.

Shadow of the Unnamable (dir. Sascha Renninger) - I remember seeing a trailer for this years ago. It's a rather straight-forward telling of "The Unnamable" whose strength lies in the performance of Robert Lyons as Carter. As it's fairly accepted that Randolph Carter was Lovecraft's surrogate, Lyons brings a sense of odd to his portrayal that made this short enjoyable.

The Shorts Block ended with a recorded announcement from Guillermo Del Toro who chose Static Aeons and Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven" as his favorites. After one final stroll by the vendors' tables, it was time for the final feature of the night.

"The Colour out of Space" is my favorite Lovecraft story (for now - ask me again in a month or so from now and I might have shuffled something else into the top spot!). It's creepy, it's evocative, it's distrubing, it's just GOOD . . . which, of course, means Hollywood can't get it right when it comes to trying to adapt the story as a film. (Not that Hollywood's had a stellar record when it comes to bringing Lovecraft to the screen, but that's besides the point!)

(I actually have a soft spot for Die, Monster, Die!, but I will be the first to loudly criticize it for botching the source material! The less said about The Curse, the better . . . )

Die Farbe (dir. Haun Vu) pulled it off. This German production follows American Jonathan Davis (Ingo Heise) as he searched for his missing father in the forests of Germany. His father served in World War II, and Davis' search has brought him to a small village where his father encountered . . . Lovecraftian.

The execution is smart and subtle. The choice to present the film in black-and-white was an inspired one. I overheard Festival Director Brian Callahan telling the director (who was at the festival for a question-and-answer session after the film) that Die Farbe wasn't just "good for an independent film," but that it was "good for any kind of film." I have to agree, and I immediately bought the movie from the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society's table after the film.

The festival ended with another after-party at Tony Starlight's (and more of that "Midnight Special: The Legendary Performances" DVD in the background). Old friends ate and drank, and congratulated Brian and Gwen on a job well-done running the festival.

Sure, it's different. There's a different vibe, and I missed having more features, any panels and more vendors (I start saving around mid-summer because I know I'm always going to find something at the festival that needs to come home with me!), but it's still the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival, and it was still a lot of fun. The Callahans have a passion for the festival, and it's in good hands.

I'm looking forward to the next go-'round. The Daily Lurker - the festival's newspaper-like program - announced that the next HPLFF will take place in May ("when the stars will be right . . . again!").

I know I'll be there.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The 2011 Portland H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival Wrap-Up, Part One


The 2011 Portland H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival has come and gone. As I mentioned in a previous post, it was a smaller event; it only ran two nights and it only ran on one screen at the Hollywood Theatre. Because of this, there were only two feature films shown, and they were SOLID and more than carried the load for a festival typically carrying multiple films. But more on those in a bit.

While some congregated at Magnolia's Corner across the street, the line started forming in front of the Hollywood Theatre as early as 5:00pm on Friday. It quickly became obvious that this was going to be a crowded event. When the doors opened at 6:00pm, the lobby of the Hollywood was flooded with Lurkers eager to visit the vendors' tables, hit the concessions bar, and make their way to a seat in front of the main screen.

A fez-topped Andrew Migliore took the stage to welcome us, and then quickly turned the show over the new keepers of the eldritch flame that is the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival - Brian and Gwen Callahan. After a quick welcome, introduction and Mi-Go-Brain-Canister-in-the-Ladies-Bathroom joke, the movies rolled.

Rick Tillman's Call of Nature started the Shorts Block. It was short, sweet, to the point, and got some laughs with its animated Cthulhu. Other shorts I saw that night included:

Flush With Fear (dir. Christopher G. Moore) - This was a fun short following a woman escaping her breaking down relationship with a good cry in the bathroom. In the bathroom, she unfortunately makes the mistake of reading some of the graffiti-that-should-not-be-read on the stall walls. Fortunately for us, Moore and company gave us some great visuals and scare moments as a result of that damned graffiti.

Doppleganger and Idle Worship (dir. Theo Stefanski) - These two shorts were nothing but beautiful. These were stop-motion animation pieces featuring a skeleton in some sort of desert wasteland setting either looking for others like him/her/itself (Doppleganger) or searching for something to worship (Idle Worship).

Edgar Allen Poe's "The Raven"
(dir. Christopher Saphire) - I should be completely honest. I can watch hours upon hours of Lovecraft-based or -inspired movies, but I really don't enjoy the Poe-movies as much. I get the reason why Poe always has representation at the HPLFF as Poe's influence on Lovecraft is evident, but . . . I, personally, am kind of over it. It's a personal thing. That said, this short, featuring Saphire as a troubled writer, remembering his lost Lenore while a raven taunts and haunts him, was striking. The imagery slowly cycles into a fast-paced nightmare with some stunning cinematography.

Dirty Silverware (dir. Steve Daniels) - I've got a few pieces of mismatched silverware - an odd faux-wood-handled soup spoon, a fork with a plastic stem, etc. - and Dirty Silverware tells us where these pieces of unfortunate utensils come from. Not only are they "dirty," they're also capable of great evil, and this short tells the story of one man who loses more than most would dare to sacrifice to stop this table setting madness.

I had to step out of the theater for the final shorts of the night, but I've heard that Ethereal Chrysalis was amazing.

After the Block and a few minutes to stretch our legs, it was time to settle in for the movie I was most looking forward to seeing at this year's festival - The Whisperer in Darkness (dir. Sean Branney).

I've been a fan of the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society for years. I've snatched up their Dark Adventure Radio CDs, their Prop Collection .pdf CD-ROMs, and have always looked forward to their vendor table at the Festival. Seeing their The Call of Cthulhu on the Hollywood Theatre a few years ago was a fantastic experience, and I know we've all been counting down the days until we could see The Whisperer... at the HPLFF.

It didn't disappoint. Branney's skill as a director are on full display; Troy Sterling Nies' score is his best work yet; Matt Foyer's physical performance reminded me of the best of Dwight Frye while his unique vocal delivery pulled me into the film's story effortlessly. This was an ambitious production, and everyone delivered.

The HPLHS' mission is to create time-period-appropriate-but-modern-audience-acceptable props and materials based on the work of Lovecraft. The Whisperer... is an ideal example of what they do. The movie is presented as a film that could have been produced and released in 1931, the same year the original story "The Whisperer in Darkness" was published, but I'd argue that it would probably be more at home in the mid-30s as films like Frankenstein and especially Dracula were a bit "stage-y." Nies' score is a bit more "full" than the scores from this time period's films, but none of this distracts or detracts from The Whisperer.... In fact, this is one of the strengths of the HPLHS, Sean Branney and co-writer Andrew Leman - they know when to bring just a touch of modern sensibility into their work to make the work accessible to modern audiences. (That's not to cast a negative light on the film at all!)

I really enjoyed The Whisperer in Darkness, and can't wait for it to hit DVD and Blu-ray (and for the score to hit CD!). Yeah, there are a few long stretches and, yeah, there are some changes and expansions made to the original story, but as a film . . . I see it easily becoming one of my favorite Lovecraft adaptations.

The night ended with a Q&A with director Branney and special make-up effects artist Dave Snyder before drinks at the after party at Tony Starlight's Supper Club (where an odd choice to play a "Midnight Special: The Legendary Performances" DVD was made!).

I'll follow-up with a Part Two/Day Two wrap-up later this week.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Countdown to the HP Lovecraft Film Festival (2011) #2

When I think about the Lovecraft Film Festival, the thoughts that come to mind aren't necessarily of films. I think about the friends I've made at the festival over the years, the camaraderie, the shared community of Lovecraft lovers. It's sometimes easy to overlook the films, so I thought I'd look back at some of the features I've seen at the festival over the years.

The Attic Expedition (dir. Jeremy Kasten) - Jeffrey Combs just belongs on the big screen at the Lovecraft Film Festival, and while this movie certainly has some low budget issues, watching it on the big screen with a crowd probably made seeing the movie a better film-watching experience than it had the right to be. The direction and acting - save Combs - is a little rough, and the screenplay does suffer a bit in spots, but there's something about this production and the production design that still grabs me. I don't think this is something I would have tracked down to watch on my own if not for the festival, and now I've got it on DVD at home because of the festival.

The Fog (dir. John Carpenter) - I hope it's obvious to most that I had already seen this movie by the time I saw it at the festival, but I had never seen it on the big screen. To see this Carpenter classic at the Hollywood Theatre was an amazing experience, especially since back then, the theater ran pretty cold (it's an old building, and has been in a perpetual state of remodel/refurbishing for at least as long as I've been a Lurker, and the heating/cooling had been out of whack for years) which gave the movie experience an uncomfortable edge that played right into the visuals of the film itself.

Beyond the Dunwich Horror (dir. Richard Griffin) - Honestly, I almost didn't catch this at the festival. I wanted to see it, but sometimes scheduling all the movies I want to see into my own schedule was tough, but I ran into Chris from The Shadow Over Portland and he encouraged me to check it out. I juggled my schedule around, and found myself sitting in on the last screening of Beyond the Dunwich Horror, and I'm glad I did. I really enjoyed the film. Jeff Dylan Graham is almost always fun to watch in lower-budget horror movies, and he didn't disappoint. The movie itself has a fun 70s drive-in vibe (Griffin's proving himself to be the guerilla master of genre throwback movies with movies like The Disco Exorcist, Atomic Brain Invasion and Nun of That), which lends itself well to a movie that does play a little fast and loose with the Lovecraft material. (And I love the music in the film!)

Curse of the Crimson Altar (dir. Vernon Sewell) - I've always been a Lugosi fan. I like Karloff - don't get me wrong - but I've always been a bigger fan of the Hungarian over the British actor. Because of this, I've not been as well-versed in some of Karloff's non-Universal genre work as I should have been, and I knew nothing about this film before walking into one of the screening rooms on the second floor of the Hollywood. Karloff? He was in another Lovecraft adaptation apart from Die, Monster, Die!? And Christopher Lee is in it? Sign me up! Karloff's looking a little rough around the edges health-wise, but he still delivers a magnetic performance from his wheelchair. Lee's solid. Barbara Steele is solid. This was one of the sleepers for me the year it was played at the festival.

Dagon (dir. Stuart Gordon) - Re-Animator's a great film, but let's be honest - it's not very "Lovecraftian." It has the trappings, and, yes, the original story "Herbert West - Reanimator" was written as a parody of the Frankenstein novel, but Re-Animator film is so over the top, it's hard to think of it in the same light of Gordon's Dagon. (No disrespect to Re-Animator; it's easily one of the Top 100 Zombie Movies... !) Dagon's got a great score, teams actor Ezra Godden (who's doing his best Combs-meets-Bruce-Campbell impression) with director Gordon a few years before his excellent turn as Walter Gilman in the "Masters of Horror" episode "Dreams in the Witch-House, and gives us a touching and heart-breaking performance by Francisco Rabal as Ezequiel.

The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu (dir. Henry Saine) - Gregg Lawrence as Captain Olaf. That could be enough to sum up why I remember this movie. Lawrence is GOLDEN in this film. Fortunately, that's not all this movie has to offer. We've got the last descendant of Lovecraft and his buddy, both frustrated wanna-be comic book creators - out trying to save the world. Okay, Lawrence isn't the only this golden in this movie; the entire movie is!

Cthulhu (dir. Dan Gildark) - Yes, the one with Tori Spelling. I didn't know what to think about this one going into it. Lovecraftian scholar S. T. Joshi supported it, and it was generating a lot of attention in the Pacific Northwest, but I still had reservations, mostly because of Spelling. It turns out, I had no reason to be hesitant about the movie; it's a solid film, and successfully and seamlessly blends a modern day story with a Lovecraftian theme. This also introduced me to the film music of Willy Greer (his music also turned up in an adaptation of "Pickman's Model"), whose haunting music disappears behind the cool, bleak imagery on screen.

Alien Raiders (dir. Ben Rock) - Scott Glancy introduced this movie when it played at the festival, and summed it up as the last session of a Delta Green role-playing game gone HORRIBLY wrong. While this movie might have been telling the story of a group's last hurrah as they track down and try to stop an alien threat, the chemistry of the characters and performers made us feel like they'd been doing their job for a long time, and Carlos Bernard and company wore this "we've-got-to-save-the-world-because-that's-what-we've-always-done-no-matter-what" on their sleeves, their faces and their entire bodies, which sold the threat to the audience, and made me wish I could spend more time in this world . . . even if, in this world, things don't go as well as they could for most folks.

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (dir. Edward Martin III) - If memory serves, this played at the festival the one year there was a fourth night added, and while I was at the IMDB confirming that Toren Atkinson was the performer providing the voice of the lead character, I stumbled across a review I apparently wrote about the movie at that site back in 2006: "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath is an ambitious movie, striving to adapt one of H. P. Lovecraft's most fantastical fictions and succeeding in nearly every aspect. Using a unique style of animation, director Edward Martin III has created a movie that should be examined by more than the typical "Lovecraft-Crowd" - the movie is that good. The voice actors did an excellent job wrapping their mouths around the more complex "Lovecraft-isms" (Nyarlathotep anyone?) while still conveying the sense of wonder that a story like ...Kadath evokes. The soundtrack was inspired as well. If you have an opportunity to see this movie, SEE IT." Well, I'm not going to argue with myself . . .

There are other movies that come to mind when I think about the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival (including a number of non-feature-length films like The Yellow Sign, AM1200 and The Call of Cthulhu), and I'm sure that as I lay down tonight to go to sleep, a few more titles will come to mind.

What I'm most looking forward to, though, is this year's film offerings (feature and otherwise)!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Countdown to the HP Lovecraft Film Festival (2011) #1

This came up on my Facebook page when I posted that my brain exchanged the word "French" for "Eldritch" when I saw a tin of General Foods International French Vanilla Cafe sitting behind my manager's desk at work. I posted that I must have Lovecraft on the brain, which makes sense because for me, this is the time of year that I start thinking about all things H. P. Lovecraft.

I've programmed myself. When Brenda and I first started considering moving to the Portland area, I went online and did a bit of research. I found the area comic book shops, the public transportation system . . . and I confirmed that The H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival was happening. I knew about the festival before the move. I knew there was a loose community of amateur moviemakers who adapted Lovecraft's work when I found a Miskatonic University website (I can't find that site anymore) selling merchandise, which included the VHS releases of Lurker in the Lobby: The Best of the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, Vol. I and Return to Innsmouth.

I bought and watched and rewatched those VHS tapes repeatedly. Even though I was already reading Lovecraft, those tapes blew the doors open for me. There were people . . . people like ME (at the time, I was making no-budget movies of my own) . . . who not only loved Lovecraft but put his work on screen.

I had to get to the Lovecraft Film Festival. Unfortunately, our first year in Portland I wasn't able to attend (I don't remember why, but I regret it), but the next year (2002) I was there. We didn't have a car at the time, so I was taking that public transportation to the festival, and I didn't get to stay the entire time or watch The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets perform, but I still had a lot of fun. I saw some wonderful films, some outstanding shorts, and started meeting other like-minded Lovecraft fans. I met the director of Return to Innsmouth (Aaron Vanek), and a number of other filmmakers that over the years that I've come to call friends.

At least year's festival, Festival Director Andrew Migliore announced that he'd be stepping down. There was rumbling that the festival would still continue in Portland (a satellite festival popped up in California thanks to Mr. Vanek), but for a good part of this year, there was little to no talk about a 2012 H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival happening in Portland. When an announcement was made . . . I know it sounds silly, but I felt a rush of relief. For years, I've joked that "October doesn't begin for me until the HPL Film Festival," but there's a lot of truth to that. It's become a tradition for me. I get to see old friends and watch some fantastic movies in a comfortable setting (The Hollywood Theatre), although I think some of the comfort comes from the familiarity of the building and the event rather than the actual accommodations (although it has gotten better over the years!).

It is a smaller event this year (it's only two nights, and there won't be as many films shown) as the current keepers of the local Festival flame wanted to keep the festival more intimate while still giving us Lurkers a fix of Lovecraft.

I'm counting down the days.




I wish I could get Return to Innsmouth and Lurker in the Lobby: The Best of the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, Vol. I on DVD. I MIGHT have the VHS tapes stashed away in a box somewhere, but I'd love to put them in my DVD folders along with my 5-disc set of The H. P. Lovecraft Collection.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Thursday Thirteen: My Dream Zombie Movie


The Thursday Thirteen is a recurring feature here at Plan D in which I post a list of 13 items/movies/books/etc. of any given category. This time around, I wanted to tie into the final-for-now episode of my podcast Mail Order Zombie. We're about to go on hiatus so that Bren and I can focus on a few other projects (writing) and priorities (health) throughout the rest of the year. As we wrap up the podcast for 2011, I wanted to address something one of our listeners brought up in a recent episode, so for this Thursday Thirteen, I present:

13 Elements That Would Make Up My Dream Zombie Movie (in no particular order) (with two additional cheats)

1 - Absolutely no CGI. This isn't a kneejerk "I-hate-CGI-effects" reaction to any particular movie or style of movie-making, but in my dream zombie movie, there's just no CGI. All the bullet hits (both firing and receiving) are real. All the blood, all the zombie make-up, all the zombie damage . . . it's all real. I realize that this means my dream zombie movie is going to have a HUGE budget as it's cheaper to go with virtual bullets and imaginary squibs than the actual pyrotechnics these days, but, hey, it's MY dream, okay?

2 - Slow zombies, or, at least, slowER zombies. I don't mind if the zombies start fast; in fact, it's probably more realistic if they do, but as they break down, they have to slow down. All jokes aside, slow zombies en masse CAN still be scary, and my dream zombie movie will show that.

3 - No undercranking or overcranking the camera. Sure, this can sometimes lead to some interesting effects and visuals, but in my dream zombie movie, I don't want to see anything sped up or slowed down. I want to see everything real time. Even though we live in a post-MTV-used-to-show-music-videos age and we're used to slow-mo or hyperspeed imagery, unless it's done spot-on-perfect (as in Zombie Hunters: City of the Dead), this can still take a viewer out of the story and make him or her aware that they're watching a movie.

4 - No music-video-like montage sequences. I feel this is overdone and unnecessary in most cases. It's a waste of screen time and, most of the time, only serves to create a cool few minutes of film instead of contributing to the whole.

5 - If the movie covers more than a few days of the zompocalypse, a brief reference made to hygiene and personal care. I saw this best addressed in the non-zombie 1962 film Panic in Year Zero!. At one point, family patriach Harry (played by Ray Milland) sits his family down and explains how they're going to do their best to maintain their routine in an attempt to hold onto a bit of normalcy. He dictates that he and his son Rick (Frankie Avalon) are going to continue to shave on a regular basis. While this may have been an attempt to explain why the films' leads weren't going to grow any facial hair during production, it also worked in terms of story. I don't need more than a few minutes mentioning where the restroom facilities are or where the showers are located, but a brief mention would make the movie feel more thought out than most. Additionally, it would be nice to see the characters change clothes every once and a while. So many times, especially in some of the lower-budget zombie movies, the zombie apocalypse hits, and even though the survivors find a place to hold out for several days with a basic complement of supplies, no one ever changes their shirt. I want to see that time passes and that the t-shirt the lead character wore at the start of the movie isn't the same one he wears at the end of the movie (unless, when briefly touching on the restroom facilities, mention is made of how laundry is being done as well).

6 - A little comedy, but not at the expense of the zombies or the audience. No forced humor. No bathroom humor. No making fun of the zombies or dressing them up or whatever. I like to laugh as much as the next guy, but don't spread the comedy on so thick that the movie becomes ABOUT the comedy or the laughs.

7 - They really are dead. There's no "rage virus." They're not really sick and really pissed off. The people who become the zombies actually flatline before coming back. These zombies really are the walking undead.

8 - Along those lines, no extended scenes in medical labs, no science experiments, no accidental chemical spills at a military weapons facility that caused the zombie outbreak. It's old-hat, and we don't need to have the opening scene in which somebody drops a beaker, someone mixes the wrong Chemical A with the wrong Chemical B, or someone breaks into a lab and accidentally releases a zombifying agent.

9 - Voodoo or some other magic. While the zombie movie is typically one of the most reflective of all horror films, better offering a way for filmmakers and film viewers a chance to address their own real world films in the context of a zombie flick (which is why so many of the modern zombie movies do focus on a disease or a virus as opposed to the black magic of the pre-Romero films or even the mention of radiation and a space probe in the original Night of the Living Dead), I prefer a little mysticism in my horror movies. I want a little supernatural thrown into my horror, and angry cells and twisted DNA doesn't communicate the same kind of supernatural threat that I like in my scary stories. It doesn't have to be the same voodoo we see in the classics like White Zombie or I Walked With a Zombie, but a bit of page flipping through the something like the ol' Necronimicon wouldn't hurt. (And, no, The Evil Dead is still not a zombie movie.)

10 - Headshots work. This is tried and true, and there's no reason not to embrace Romero's Law as easily as we embrace wooden-stakes-killing-a-vampire and silver-bullets-work-on-a-werewolf.

11 - Actors and actresses that have no problem continuing to be associated with the horror genre after the film has wrapped. I see this more with the bigger budget horror movies, and it feels a little false or off-putting to me. While I do appreciate that sometimes, some heavy hitters will agree to appear in a horror film (Brad Pitt in the upcoming World War Z, for example, which is just Mr. Pitt returning the genre that gave him his first film role), which MAY give that movie or even the genre a little credibility for a little while, it would be nice to know that the people involved in my dream zombie movie truly do love the genre, embrace it, and will continue to support it in the future.

12 - An actual film score and very little music not originally written for the film. Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead showed us that library music can work extremely well, but for my dream zombie movie, I want an original score, and one that is made available for purchase on CD or as .mp3 downloads.

13 - Not a remake. 'Nuff said.

(14 - Bells and whistles on the home release. Give me special features, a worthwhile director's commentary, behind-the-scenes, etc.

15 - Make it Western. Yeah. Zombies in the Old West. I WANT.)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Short story behind me . . . what's next?

I finished the short-story-in-progress, ran it through the editing gauntlet, gave it a title, gave it one more pass, and submitted it. Not only did I make the deadline for the anthology, but I'm also on track with my next writing project, which I wanted to give my full attention in September.

Novella #1 - here I come.

Monday, August 22, 2011

A writing lesson learned

Before I dive into a novella that's been brewing in the back of my brain for the past few months, I've been working to finish a short story. It quickly became a longer piece of short fiction than I originally imagined, which was a problem because my intention was to submit the story to an anthology that had a maximum word count of 7,000 words. I managed to let the the story grow to over 8,500 words by the time I was done with the first draft.

I liked what I had written, but I needed to cut 1,500 words. Taking a good, hard look at the piece, I decided I could remove my two lead characters' interaction with a third character, and either gloss over their meeting or even skip it altogether. Snip, snip, cut, and done.

But now the timeline of the story has this unnecessary pit stop at a location where it only made sense to even bother writing about unless my leads meet up with the now-excised character. So I cut that, too, and squinted at what was left of the story to see if I could stitch it all back together.

And I could, but I needed to change the ending.

So for a few moments, the story was down to less-than-7,000-words . . . until I added the new ending, and I managed to get down to 7,500 words.

At this point, I needed a bit of distance and maybe another set of eyes on the story, so I printed it up and handed it off to Brenda. While I was printing this draft of the still-untitled-story, she asked me how much this anthology would pay if they accepted my story. Off the top of my head, I didn't remember, so I pulled up the publisher's website and told Bren what the payrate was.

And then I noticed right beneath it that the word max was listed as "around 7,000 words."

Around.

Sure, 8,500-plus words is a bit more than "around" 7,000-words, but 7,500? I think I could probably pass that off if the story is as tight as it could be. And after trimming it as much as I did, I think it is (but we'll see what Bren says!).

I'm looking at this as a learning experience. If I can completely eliminate a character from a story and the story still works without him/her, the character was unnecessary from the beginning; the same can be said of a location.

It's something I'll keep in mind while breaking down my novella.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Thursday Thirteen: 13 Writers Who've Influenced Me (Fiction Edition)


My bookshelves are a mess. They could certainly use a bit of organizing, but what I mean in this case is that I've got Clive Barker books sitting next to Robert E. Howard collections, an Indiana Jones novel squeezed between a science fiction novel and a collection of Lovecraft, and my zombie movie reference books on the same shelf as my Alan Dean Foster novelization of Krull.

I certainly have my preferences when it comes to genre, but the fact is that good writing is good writing, regardless of the trappings of whatever section the bookstore stocks their product. Of course, I have my favorites, and, admittedly, my experience with some genres is rather limited or even non-existent (romance and western, for example; although I am slowly getting more westerns under my belt these days).

While I've focused on horror writing the past few years, I still have some non-horror authors who've inspired me over the years. With that in mind, this installment of The Thursday Thirteen is devoted to the 13 (fiction) writers who've helped shape my writing style, sensibility, focus, drive, direction and tone (presented in nothing-but-alphabetical order although those who know me know who my "top" writers are!).

- Lloyd Alexander. I first read The High King in the fifth grade, and it changed everything for me in terms of what I was reading. Up until this point, I was reading things like The Hardy Boys and Choose Your Own Adventure books (although I preferred the Twistaplot books more!). I had some exposure to fantasy fiction and films before reading The High King (oddly, I saw The Black Cauldron during its theatrical run years before I read The High King for the first time!), but afterward, I was hooked. I read and reread The Chronicles of Prydain throughout the rest of my grade school years, and into junior high school. I have a collected edition of the books now, and have dipped into it every five-or-so years since then.

- Clive Barker. I came to Barker-the-writer after discovering Barker-the-filmmaker. As soon as I was able to rent R-rated movies from the local video store on my own, I devoured Blockbuster's horror section, and one Friday night, one of my high school best friends and I rented the first two Hellraiser films. They left a bloody impression on me, and when I learned that this Clive Barker guy was also a writer, I sought out his fiction and had my mind ripped apart as if by so many of Pinhead's chains. Contemporary horror with no holding back. Bright, epic storytelling with the darkest shadows I'd read up to that point. Modern mythology created in just a few chapters. I reread The Great and Secret Show numerous times (and remember even recommending it to one of my church youth group leaders!), and as much as I would love to see Barker come back to direct another horror film, I think I'd much rather see him come back and write another horror novel.

- Kurt Busiek. I'd read comic books through junior high school, fell off for a little while in high school, and then dove back in a few years afterward just before I started film school. I was a Marvel fan during my school years, but when I came back to comics, I found myself reading across the different companies, but there was always one guy that kept bringing me solidly back to Marvel, and that writer was Kurt Busiek. He reinforced my love for "The Avengers," showed me how to enjoy Spider-Man through his "Untold Tales..." title, and then took me out of Marvel and welcomed me to a little place called Astro City. I followed him to the "Power Company" at DC, and anytime I see his name on the "written by" line of a comic, I still give that comic a serious look. Whether it's working within established continuity or creating his own, Busiek has taught me much when it comes to writing superhero fiction.

- Douglas Clegg. I meant to start reading Clegg before I actually did. A few years ago when I took some time off from work to recover from a quick-medical-thing, Brenda picked up a few of his novels from Powell's City of Books for me, and I realized I had waited too long. Afterlife was my first Clegg novel, and while I really enjoy the Harrow House series of stories, You Come When I Call You is not just my favorite Clegg work, but it's one of my favorite horror stories PERIOD. His characters feel as real to me as some of the people I know, and I've learned a lot about the craft of storytelling from books like Neverland, The Attraction and The Hour Before Dark.

- David Conyers and John Sunseri. These two writers are behind The Spiraling Worm, a collection of related stories released by Chaosium a few years ago. Through seven stories - some written solo by Conyers, some solo by Sunseri and the final story co-written by the both of them - we learn that mankind is doing it's damndest to cope with the Lovecraftian threats everpresent in the world. The stories read like world-spanning spy thrillers . . . with another universe and Shoggoth and the Great Race of Yith all getting in humanity's way, and nearly winning.

- David (and Leigh) Eddings. I was reading fantasy fiction as fast as I could in junior high school, going to the library and borrowing books on a weekly basis. When I first read Pawn of Prophecy, my reading came to a screeching halt . . . because I read and reread and re-reread Eddings' The Belgariad series until The Mallorean series started hitting the shelves. Those books were constant companions of mine throughout high school. The Rivan Codex became a near-how-to writing book for me for a few years as well. I enjoyed his other works as well, but The Belgariad, along with The Chronicles of Prydain and one other author's work formed my personal definition of fantasy fiction for years.

- Mick Farren. The Armageddon Crazy. That title grabbed me in high school for some reason, and the novel itself? A just-slightly-futuristic story in which a big corporation projects skyscraper-sized holograms of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse riding their horses down the streets of New York. Up until that point, science fiction to me was "Star Wars." This was somehow "broken science fiction" and I loved it. I sought out more Farren, read books like The Feelies (a future story in which the virtual reality machines people were using were malfunctioning and killing them as evidenced by a clergyman having his Passion of the Christ moment interrupted by Groucho Marx as a Roman soldier) and Mars: The Red Planet (the Cold War continued into the future and when America and the Soviet Union settled on Mars, the tensions are high . . . and then the murders start), and eventually settled on The Last Stand of the DNA Cowboys as my favorite Farren novel. When I first found ...DNA Cowboys, I didn't realize it was a return to characters Farren had already written about in the 70s; The Last Stand... was my first introduction to the The Minstrel Boy, Billy Oblivion and Reave Mekonta . . . and after introducing me to these three and their world, Farren managed to end it. The world that is. The Last Stand of the DNA Cowboys is about the end of EVERYTHING and the DNA Cowboys trying to stop it. This was something that could be done in science fiction? I was hooked.

- Robert Freese. Even though I produce a zombie movie/media podcast, before launching Mail Order Zombie, I hadn't read a lot of zombie fiction. I'd read some, but not much. I just never felt a draw to it, for better or worse, but when I read Freese's Bijou of the Dead, my eyelids were peeled back and my eyes were completely opened to what zombie prose had to offer. Freese made zombie fiction approachable, enjoyable and accessible for me.

- Robert E. Howard. The rough-and-tumble adventure style of Howard's writing grabs me by the delicates and refuses to let me go until I've consumed the last lines of whatever Howard story I'm reading at the time. Almost as much as his actual writing, though, Howard-the-writer impresses me so much - he was a prolific man, wrote in several different genres (sometimes at the same time!), and in a time and place when the economy was brutal, he made his living as a writer (granted, he lived at home with his parents, one of which was the local doctor, but the fact that writing was what he chose to do with his life and that was that is inspiring to me).

- Stephen King. Like a lot of other horror fans, Stephen King was my first stop on my road to becoming a horror fiction reader. He was the "go-to guy," and I checked every black-dust-jacketed Viking Press hardcover King book out from the public library. As much as I enjoyed his fiction (It became a favorite of mine), it wasn't until I started reading "The Dark Tower" books and finally saw all the connections within his "universe" coming together that I finally realized that King was doing what I wanted to do in terms of writing multiple stories within the same "universe" but not being a traditional series without the benefit of a comic book page.

- H. P. Lovecraft. He's inspired most modern horror creators, countless film adaptations, a film festival or two, conventions, games . . . so much of horror can be traced back to a handful of short stories written by someone who lived in the town of Providence, Rhode Island, from 1890 to 1937. Evil books that shouldn't be read? Beings and creatures from beyond what we call reality waiting for just the right moment to return? Cultists, weird happenings, the ultimate insignificance of man in the cosmos? Without Lovecraft, I doubt we'd be where we're at now in terms of horror fiction. With Lovecraft, we're all the better for it.

- F. Paul Wilson. Two words: Repairman Jack. He's been called one of the greatest serialized characters in modern fiction by quite a few folks (including Desmond Reddick over at Dread Media who sings Wilson's praises on a regular basis, and rightly so!). The character has sustained several connected novels that also work as standalone works, and Wilson allows his readers to "live" through Jack without resorting to first-person perspective.

- Stephan Zielinski. His first (and to my knowledge, only) book, Bad Magic was published in 2004, and I'd love for there to be a follow-up. Bad Magic is another "there's-monsters-out-there-and-someone's-got-to-stop-them-and-those-lucky-someone's-aren't-always-the-shiny-hero-types" with enough dark humor and wit to make what might have been an awkward prose style enjoyable. Oh, and there's thin dogs, but they didn't scare me away from thinking that, yes, I can write fiction like this, too.

(There are some obvious omissions; it was hard to get this down to just 13 was TOUGH!)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

40 minutes and 400 words

With my "real life" job, all my other projects and everything else that's been going on in the Life of D lately, I sneak in my writing when I can. One of these times is during my lunch break at work.

I get an hour, and it takes me about 20-ish minutes to microwave-my-lunch-and-eat-it, so I spend the remaining 40-ish minutes working on my laptop. I have three short stories in various stages of completion right now, and I'm focusing on one of these so that I can submit it to an anthology (which has a submission deadline of September 1); it's also a work-in-progress that's allowed me to develop two characters that I plan on using in future projects. For better or worse, I've put a lot of pressure on myself with this particular story, but I don't mind because I'm having a great time writing it.

During my lunchtime writing today, I knocked out between 400-500 words. I like the dialogue. The character interactions were good. The inner dialogue of my viewpoint character is solid.

And then as I'm walking back to my desk to go back to work, it occurs to me that what I just wrote in 400-ish words could have been knocked down to around 20-30 words and work just as well, make the story tighter, not fluff up the wordcount and solve a mechanics-issue I was starting to see sweeping toward me if I continued on this path.

40 minutes. 400 words.

I'm trying not to feel robbed of the writing time today, as in the end, I'm sure it's a good thing. I was talking with a friend/fellow writer about "shaking off the rust" and there not being such a thing as "wasted words." Sometimes we just need to ge through some thick patches of extra words to get to the sumptious prose behind it.

(Did I just say "sumptious prose"? I think I need to head to bed . . . after I write for a few minutes.)