Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Beyond the Shroud, by Rick Hautala


(hb; 1995)

From the back cover:

"David Robinson's life has taken several turns for the worse: first his daughter dies, then his marriage crumbles and his career as a mystery writer falls apart. But after he is killed in a hit-and-run accident, David quickly learns that he will face the most harrowing challenges as a wraith in the Shadowlands.

"Unable to contact or influence the world of the living, David's agony is made worse when he learns that his ex-wife relationship with a dangerous man named Tony Ranieri has put her life at risk. Tony possesses - and is possessed by - a relic filled with such awesome powers of destruction that dark forces within the Shadowlands will stop at nothing to obtain it. They'll even spur Tony to murder and manipulate the soul of David's daughter to forge his cooperation.

"But Tony is already dead, and he knows that power is a blade that cuts two ways."


Review:

With its palpable mood of cycling grief, vivid description and relatable characters, the genre-melding Shroud is a hard-to-set-down novel that deftly avoids horror clichés, while updating them and infusing them with elements of urban fantasy.

The finish of this exceptional, emotionally effective novel indicates that two other Wraith books should follow. I hope that Hautala gets them published sooner, not later.

Worth owning, this.

Kill Your Boyfriend, by Grant Morrison, Philip Bond, D'israeli & Daniel Vozzo


(pb; 1995, 1998: graphic novel - for mature audiences only)

From the back cover:

"Girl meets boy. Girl falls for boy. Boy takes girl on violent rampage through English suburb.

"Murder. Sex. Drugs. And anarchy follow."


Review:

This trigger-happy and adolescent-jubilant graphic novel is a fun murder and (non-explicit) sex spree-update of Bonnie and Clyde, an update that is unique and British (in a non-stuffy way) in its thrill kill/light-hearted joyride.

Between its distinctive, excellent artwork and its sharp, skewering dialogue and anti-heroes, Boyfriend is easily one of my all-time favorite graphic novels, with its fresh take on first love and violence. Its ending still, even after multiple readings, makes me chuckle at its theme-centric dark wit.

Worth owning, for readers who aren't put out by (seemingly) senseless violence, unique artwork and clever, often charming, writing.


Monday, March 26, 2012

**MorningAJ's Falling star was published on the Microstory A Week site

A new story is up on the Microstory A Week site.

Morning AJ penned this week's story, Falling star, about an aging actor whose attitude toward his career may need updating.

Check this story out. =)

Sex-Crime Panic, by Neil Miller


(pb; 2002: non-fiction)

From the back cover:

"In 1955, following the sexual assault and brutal murder of two children in Sioux City, Iowa, police, in an attempt to quell public hysteria, arrested 20 men who authorities never claimed had anything to do with the crimes. Labeled as sexual psychopaths under a state law that lumped homosexuals with child molesters and murderers, the men were sentenced to a mental hospital until deemed 'cured.' Neil Miller's carefully researched account shows how the paranoia of the McCarthy era destroyed the lives of gay men in the American heartland. A gripping story of murder and anti-gay hysteria, Sex-Crime Panic presents a dark and strange chapter in the history of postwar America."

Review:

This excellent non-fiction book focuses on a facet of "1950s paranoia" (which mirrors, in many ways, our current political and social climate) that often gets overlooked in the mainstream media.

Sex-Crime doesn't read like a stodgy historical recounting of a by-gone era; it reads like a reader-engaging, fast-moving overview of societal stresses and biases, as well as a necessary reminder of what mistakes we, as a nation, shouldn't revisit.

Timely work: worth owning, this.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Freaks That Carry Your Luggage Up to the Room, by Will Viharo


(pb; 2011: novella)

From the back cover:

"Freaks That Carry Your Luggage Up to the Room is . . . set within the claustrophobic confines of a mysteriously malevolent hotel, frequented by men and monsters alike; a nightmarish nexus of carnal carnage, with flesh-eating Mexican vampires, alien spies, mad scientists, deviant dwarves, horny zombies, teenage werewolves, Elvis impersonators, hit men, hustlers, clairovoyant cats and other random rebels and rejects feverishly fornicating and ferociously feasting beneath the repressive radar of polite society. This is Extreme Erotic Horror Noir, with a dash of satire and a twist of irony, not for the squeamish, but for anyone who wallows shamelessly in the corporeal illusion called Life."

Review:

Freaks, like Viharo's previous genre-blender, A Mermaid Drowns in the Midnight Lounge, is a violent, gory, pornoriffic and potent blend of horrors and strange semblances of society and humanity, with overt links to Viharo's other works, particularly his theme- and tone-varied Vic Valentine novels (starting with Love Stories Are Too Violent For Me) and Chumpy Walnut.

Freaks is shorter and less complex, structurally speaking, than Mermaid, but sports the same spirit of Mermaid, with its cinematic references (love the chapter titles), seedy (often relatable) desperation and unrelenting violence.

Worth owning, this. This is one of my favorite reads from Viharo, perhaps topping even Mermaid in its direct, unapologetic simplicity.

Freaks is also available in e-book format.

#

If you live in the East Bay, near San Francisco, Viharo hosts free double-features of various b-movies. These tiki-bar get-togethers are called Chillville, and take place on the third Monday of every month at the Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge in Alameda, where Viharo dispenses, along with his b-movie knowledge and wit, giveaways and prizes. The show starts around 7:30 p.m. (it's best to get there at least an hour earlier for decent seating).

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Ghost Rider, Wolverine, Punisher: Hearts of Darkness, by Howard Mackie, John Romita Jr. & Klaus Janson


(pb; 1991: one-shot comic book)

From the back cover:

"Ghost Rider / Wolverine / Punisher

"A new breed of hero: Motorcycle-riding spirit of vengeance, adamantium-clawed mutant, and battle-hardened vigilante. More than their tools and their methods separate them from the rest of earth's heroes. There is something that burns more fiercely inside of them.

"Blackheart

"A new breed of villain: Evil incarnate. The insane hellspawn of Mephisto. Bent on the assassination of his father. Seeking allies, he attempts to reach into the deepest parts of the heroes' hearts and souls. . .

"Christ's Crown

"A quiet midwestern town: The residents finds themselves caught at the center of a struggle between forces they cannot comprehend. A struggle that will cause the heroes to look within themselves. A struggle that will lead to the very gates of hell itself."

Review:

A meh, tired storyline mars this cash-grab comic book that brings together three unlikely but brooding heroes, against Blackheart, and, possibly, an even larger threat.

Hearts of Darkness is disappointing and familiar fluff, when one considers the distinctive, drama-rich characters involved: even Blackheart, who, with the right key or pen-strokes, could easily be a Shakespearean villain, is treated lightly. These characters deserve better.

Intriguing artwork, an impressive, massive fold-out front and back cover, and plenty of splash page violence don't make up for the lackluster writing, but it's still cool.

Hearts of Darkness is an okay/misfire comic book, worth owning for $1 (for its solid artwork), but don't pay more than that for it.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Two For The Dough, by Janet Evanovich


(hb; 1996: second book in the Stephanie Plum series)

From the inside flap:

". . . Stephanie's back, armed with attitude - not to mention stun guns, defense sprays, killer flashlights, and her trusty .38. Stephanie is after a new bail jumper, Kenny Mancuso, a boy from Trenton's burg. He's fresh out of the army, suspiciously wealthy, and he's just shot his best friend.

"With her bounty hunter pal Ranger stepping in occasionally to advise her, Stephanie staggers knee-deep in corpses and caskets as she traipses through back streets, dark alleys, and funeral parlors.

"And nobody knows funeral parlors better than Stephanie's irrepressible Grandma Mazur, a lady whose favorite pastime is grabbing a front-row seat at a neighborhood wake. So Stephanie uses Grandma as a cover to follow leads, but loses control when Grandma warms to the action, packing a cool pistol. Much to the family's chagrin, Stephanie and Grandma may soon have the elusive Kenny in their sights.

"Fast-talking, slow-handed vice cop Joe Morelli joins in the case, since the prey happens to be his young cousin. And if the assignment calls for an automobile stakeout for two with a woman who puts his libido in overdrive, Morelli's not one to object.

"Low on expertise but learning fast, high on resilience, and despite the help she gets from friends and despite the help she gets from friends and relatives. Stephanie eventually must face the danger alone when embalmed body parts begin to arrive on her doorstep and she's targeted for a nasty death by the most loathsome adversary she's ever encountered. Another case like this and she'll be a real pro."

Review:

Amusing, streamlined novel, more comedy than mystery (that is, more about how the bad guys did it not who did it), but worth reading for the aforementioned comedic romp and Jersey-esque elements.

Followed by Three To Get Deadly.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Jewel in the Moment, by Richard Cody


(pb; 2009: poem anthology)

Review:

The Jewel in the Moment is one of my all-time favorite poetry anthologies. Admittedly, Cody's themes and preference for wry, succinct writing and "haikuish" often align with my own penned leanings, a factor that imbued my reading of his exceptional, cut-to-it versifying with a damn-near-halo-esque glow.

There were a few pieces here and there that I didn't entirely relate to (that's unavoidable with any poetry or story collection), but these pieces were still worth publishing, considering Cody's able takes on the subjects - there's not a meh work in the bunch, which is rare in anthologies, no matter how excellent.

Cody's themed pieces run along these lines: Big Sur, the blues ("For Skip James"), a family tragedy, insomnia, people and animals in urban and forest settings, quirk-ish humor, San Francisco and the brevity of one's youth.

"Here's a taste" - to use a Stephen Colbert phrase - of Cody's work:




Walking home tonight,

scent of jasmine, in the lot

a burst of sparrows!



and:


Old man with a leash -

at the other end a boy

kicking windfall nuts.



If you're into micro-form poetry, make this book your next purchase. It's that wonderful. I don't keep many books, because I don't have a lot of space to store my pop culture and published treasure, but I intend to keep this one.

**Basil Rosa's Kozart's Albino Elephants was published on the Conjectural Figments site

Basil Rosa, whose He held on and she kept saying time to go graced the Microstory A Week site in October 2011, has had one of his newer stories (Kozart's Albino Elephants) published on the Conjectural Figments site (it starts on page 47).

Basil's edgy story, which details an ex-con junkie's struggles to get right with his life, is one of my favorite pieces I've read from him.

Check out this excellent story!

Monday, March 12, 2012

**Anna's Simkins was published on the Microstory A Week site

A new story is up on the Microstory A Week site.

Anna penned this week's story, Simkins, about the resulting fall-out when relations between humans and intergalactic aliens break down.

Check this story out. =)

Shock Value, by Jason Zinoman


(hb; 2011: non-fiction)

From the inside flap:

"By the later 1960s, horror was stuck in the past, confined mostly to drive-in theaters and exploitation houses, and shunned by critics. Shock Value tells the unlikely story of how an ambitious art form emerged from a mix of commercial extincts and personal passion. Directors like Wes Craven, Roman Polanski, John Carpenter, and Brian DePalma revolutionized the genre in the 1970s, plumbing their deepest anxieties to explode taboos and bring a gritty realism, confrontational style, and political edge to horror. Zinoman recounts how these innovative directors produced such classics as Rosemary's Baby, Carrie, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and Halloween, creating a template for horror that has been relentlessly imitated but whose originality has rarely been matched.

"This new kind of film dispensed with the old vampires and werewolves and instead assaulted audiences with portraits of serial killer, the dark side of surburbia, and a brand of nihilistic violence that had never been seen before. Shock Value tells the improbable stories behind the making of these movies, which remain misunderstood even by some of their most die-hard fans. They were directed by strong-willed and often obsessive young men working largely outside of the confines of Hollywood and on shoestring budgets, and whose success depended as much on creative conflict as vision. But once The Exorcist became the highest-grossing film in America, Hollywood took notice, and horror would never be the same."

Review:

Entertaining and informative, this is an excellent, chock-full-of-interviews and occasionally psychological read for cinematic horror fans and those interested in cinematic style tale-telling.

Worth owning, this.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Behold the Stars, by Kenneth Bulmer


(pb; 1965)

From the front page:

"Man had discovered a means for colonizing the galaxy. Through a system of instantaneous matter transmission, men, machines, anything, could be sent light years away in seconds!

"Only men were not the only beings in the galaxy who were expanding, and at 200 light years from Earth the alien Gershmi people made their claims clear, with guns!

"It would have been a fair fight between equally matched races, had not the very matter transmitter boxes which made mankind's expansion possible, suddenly began to put men back together, 200 light years from Earth, with their will to fight removed, so that Earthmen were marching with white flags of truce straight into Gershmi fire!"

Review:

This is a fun, blast-through science fiction adventure read, with some nice (though not entirely unexpected) plot wrinkles near the end. Genre-true and reader-hooking, this is, with its tight plotting and writing, and tongue-in-cheek/stock characterizations.

Behold the Stars, like its conjoined novel, Planetary Agent X (by Mack Reynolds), is a worthwhile read.

#

Behold the Stars was packaged as a reverse-bound "Ace Double" novel, which means that if readers flip(ped) the book upside down and over, there was another science fiction novel, penned by another author, on the other side. (Considering that these books sold for 45 cents a pop, this seems like a great deal, even back in that less-expensive, Sixties economy.)

The cover for the flipside novel, Planetary Agent X, by Mack Reynolds, follows this sentence.

**Basil Rosa's Rowing the Beach to Shore was published on the Blue Lake Review site

Basil Rosa, whose He held on and she kept saying time to go graced the Microstory A Week site in October 2011, has had one of his newer stories (Rowing the Beach to Shore) published on the Blue Lake Review site.

Basil's story, which charts the could-go-in-any-direction bickering of a car-trapped couple, is immediately immersive and rings real-life veracious, with its relatable/type-recognizable characters and multi-layered dialogue.

Check out this excellent story!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

From the Psycho Ward Level 1 Critical, by Howard Yosha


(pb; 2010: poem anthology/chapbook, sort of)

From the back cover:

"From the Psycho Ward Level 1 Critical is the 7th chapbook of poetry written by Howard Yosha. During 2009 and 2010 Howard ran the 1/2 Marathon in Orange County, California. Became paralyzed with Cauda Equina, had stays in 3 hospitals, 3 ambulance rides, when to rehab hospital and the Psycho Ward Level 1 Critical. Many of these poems were written from the hospital bed."

Review:

Psycho Ward is best read as an experimental scrap book, an uneven mix of paintings, photos, journal entries and poems. Readers approaching this anthology, as I initially did, as a straightforward poetry chapbook, may be disappointed, even dismayed by it, especially after paying thirty bucks for it(self-publishing a book with color photos and artwork is expensive, something Psycho Ward's price likely reflects).

I'll start with what I didn't like about the anthology, so I can end the review on a positive, balance-all-elements note.

Psycho Ward, with its self-conscious/convert-zeal tone, has too much dry-medical fact telling, not enough showing, flaws that are exacerbated by Yosha's constant referencing of his name (referencing oneself once, maybe twice in an anthology works; anything beyond that either reads as Amateur Hour Writing, satire or grand-standing). To be fair, the didactic, adhere-to-explicit names and facts tone of Psycho Ward does potently reflect the anger, terror, resultant activism and spiritual enlightenment of Yosha's experiences.

Approximately half of the twenty-six pieces in this anthology read like writing exercises or plot summations for works that need to be fleshed out, built upon with images and other sensory information, e.g. "30 Day Psychiatric Exercise - I Am Thankful for my parents", which while undoubtedly sincere, and experimental/different, fails as a poem: while I admire Yosha for his willingness to be open to different styles and formatting, this was too dry and generic - there was no personality to this, no sense of him, nor of his parents. Unless he was structure-referencing a self-help or religious mantra, this shouldn't have been included in Psycho Ward.

The same goes for "Fight for your life", which, while reinforcing (and building upon, a little bit) previous poems, isn't diverse enough in its language to justify - for this reader - it being included in the book; as it is, it reads like a repetitive work, not a theme-progressive work.

Yosha clearly has intensity and drive, as well as the aforementioned willingness to try new forms, but the mix-and-match format of Psycho Ward, if this is where his headspace and current work resides, does little to recommend him at this juncture; that said, there are flashes of good, even excellent writing in this anthology.

I am referring only to his writing, by the way. His artwork and photos are good to this non-painter/-photographer's eyes, but, on a practical pricing level, it might bode better for Yosha's sales if he cut down on how many photos and paintings he put into anthologies - at least for now, until someone else is footing the bill, paying him, for his collections.

What I also liked about Psycho Ward are works like the theme-progressive and -different, as well as playful "In Jerusalem", which, in its entirety, reads:

"Three blind mice now see

After a miracle Hokey, Pokey and Jokey

Crossed the street, losing their mind

In Jerusalem they became Jesus, Mary and Joseph
"


These theme-evolving not-quite-asides, many of which arrive in the second half of the anthology, show Yosha's talent, unmarred by his experimental lack of editing.

Other standout poems that I enjoyed:

"Journal Mining" - Good use of free-form flow and imagery; reads naturally, without obtrusive medical references or preaching.

"The Survivors" - This sports the same virtues as "Journal Mining".

"Do you want to get married for 99 cents" - Silly, playful, smile-inducing goofiness.

"The Great Depression or, The Second Great Depression" - Intense burst of poetic outrage, and a good snapshot of America's present-day politics.

"Manic episode where I wanted to change my name from Yosha to Joshua" - Reader-engaging hospital tale-verse.

"Jesus Definition" - Interesting, different piece; great exit line.

"Psy Lauren" - Alliterative poem, effective in its humor.

"Devil Bloom" - Excellent flow and imagery to this.

"The Church of Me" - Good language and flow in this one; this anthology capper has a fitting finish, poetic summation and progression of the anthology's self-improvement theme.

What it comes down to is this: at least half of Psycho Ward's poems should have been cut from the book, to be edited (or melded) into better, show-don't-tell pieces - and Yosha's talent-shine pieces, the ones that worked, should have been formatted as a section, perhaps sporting this anthology's title, in a larger and better-edited anthology.

That Yosha has talent, I have no doubt; I also believe - hope - that Yosha's other six books reflect that fervid talent, and, as he grows (as an artist and a man), he'll find his voice, natural and unfettered by the flaws I've mentioned in this stinging but constructive review.

While I can't recommend Psycho Ward for its print price and flaws, I can recommend that you keep an eye out for Howard Yosha as an artist in future books and (possibly) art shows.

For e-book readers: Psycho Ward is also available as an e-book, for $6.49

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

**Kate Alexander-Kirk's Hit and run was published on the Microstory A Week site

A new story is up on the Microstory A Week site.

Kate Alexander-Kirk penned this week's story, Hit and run, about a girl's reaction to a grisly auto accident.

Check this short story out. =)

Monday, March 05, 2012

The Woman Chaser by Charles Willeford


(pb; 1960)

From the back cover:

"Richard Hudson, woman chaser and used car salesman, has a pimp's awareness of the ways women (and men) are mostly vulnerable. One day Richard decides to make an ambitious film, which turns into a fiasco. Enraged, he exacts revenge on all who have crossed him."


Review:

The Woman Chaser is a disturbing read, in that the main character/narrator, Richard Hudson, is so amoral, (self-)destructive, childish and smug, especially when it comes to his interactions with those around him; what makes this repellant narrator tolerable is the way Willeford, an amazingly nuanced writer, cleverly structures Woman with a dry wit script-mindset - it's the equivalent of watching a talented actor (or writer, in this case Willeford) pretend to be a hack (Hudson), all the while skewering said hackish character/voice.

The laughs in this novel, like those in the movie that followed thirty-nine years later, are dark and bleak, with a touch of silliness.

Exemplary, memorable - if disturbing - novel.

#

This was released stateside as a black and white comedy film in 1999.

Patrick Warburton played Richard Hudson. Eugene Roche played "Used Car Salesman". Lynette Bennett played Mother. Paul Malevich played Leo. Marilyn Rising played Becky. Ron Morgan played Bill. Emily Newman played Laura.

Joe Durrenberger played Chet. Pat Crowder played "Salvation Army Woman". Ernie Vincent played "The Man". Max Kerstein played Ruggerio. Mel Hampton played Flaps. Lora Witty (billed as Laura Witty) played Mrs. Shantz. Lane Siller played Milo. J. Keith van Straaten played Dickie J. Hewlitt.

Robinson Devor scripted and directed the film.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Re-Animator: Tales of Herbert West, by H.P. Lovecraft


(pb; 1991: graphic novel. Edited by Steven Jones, who also wrote the Introduction. [Interior] illustrations by Mikael Oskarsson. Cover painting by Tom Smith. Back cover painting by Adam Adamowicz.)

From the back cover:

"A rare collection of six fascinating yet oft' forgotten tales about everyone's favorite Med student from the master of macabre himself: H.P. Lovecraft.

"These are the origins of Herbert West: Re-Animator!"



Overall review:

Re-Animator is a decent, interesting anthology of Lovecraft's earliest published works, all of them themed around the character of Herbert West, a deranged Aryan-in-appearance scientist, and his unnamed assistant, and their often-disastrous and deeply disturbing resurrection-of-the-freshly-dead experiments.

Steven Jones' "Introduction" is excellent, providing informed context that made this reader further appreciate the charms and drawbacks of these early Lovecraft stories; in the same vein, Mikael Oskarsson's illustrations are suitably theme-focused and horrifying, like the double-columned stories they accompany.

Worth owning, for fans of the Re-Animator film trilogy, and die-hard Lovecraft readers.



Review, story by story:

1.) "From The Dark": Herbert West and an unnamed narrator bring a dead man back to life, with surprising (as far as they're concerned) results.

Meh story, reads a bit flat - that is, not as lively, language- or tone-wise, as Lovecraft's later work.


2.) "Six Shots By Midnight": Another re-animation experiment results in bestial antics, late-night intrusions and, possibly, the disappearance of a small-town child (whose supposed absence has the locals in an torch-wielding uproar).

Despite Midnight's overt racism - these tales were written and published in the early 1920s - this complex, gleefully dark and atmospheric (when compared to "From The Dark") tale is an entertaining improvement on its source tale.

Good story, if read with its cultural milieu in mind.


3.) "The Horror From The Shadows": March 1915. Herbert West and his unidentified assistant (and narrator) experiment with the wartime dead.

"Horror" is a slightly different, but otherwise redundant and mundane take on the structures and themes of the first two stories, particularly "From The Dark".


4.) "The Plague Daemon": A typhoid outbreak presents West and his assistant with further material - a familiar corpse - upon which to test West's re-animation theories.

Of course things go badly, and a rash of murders ensue.

"Plague" is an okay, but (again) structure-theme redundant re-animation tale; it does, however, sport a darkly witty end-line (for a Lovecraft work).


5.) "The Scream Of The Dead": July 1910. Two re-animation breakthroughs enable West and his assistant to resurrect a dead man, whose reasoning capabilities are still present, post-resurrection.

This is one of the better West tales, one that incorporates past story elements and characters, while progressing them.


6.) "The Tomb-Legions": Some of West's experiments (a few of them mentioned in previous West tales) return to take their revenge on him.

Good, worthwhile finale to the West stories, one that delivers on previous tales' foreshadowings, and one that presages Lovecraft's increasingly effective use of atmosphere, particularly dread, in later non-West works.

#

These stories became the basis for the witty, camp-classic film Re-Animator, released stateside on October 18, 1985.

Jeffrey Combs played Herbert West (a role Combs reprised in two Re-Animator sequels). Bruce Abbott played Dan Cain (a role he reprised in the 1990 film Bride of Re-Animator). Barbara Crampton played Megan Halsey (a character absent from Lovecraft's source tales). David Gale played Dr. Carl Hill (a role he, too, reprised in Bride of Re-Animator). Robert Sampson played Dean Halsey.

Gerry Black played Mace. Carolyn Purdy-Gordon played Dr. Harrod. Peter Kent played "Melvin the Re-Animated".

Stuart Gordon directed the film, from a script he co-authored with Dennis Paoli and William Norris (billed as William J. Norris).

As mentioned before, two worthwhile sequels followed: Bride of Re-Animator (1990) and Beyond Re-Animator (2003), both of which were directed and co-scripted by Brian Yuzna.