.Due to some personal business, today's story will be delayed until tomorrow. Sorry for the delay.
UPDATE: Didn't get to it over the weekend. Going to just plow ahead with normal service resuming this week
A long forgotten art form that I miss is the Horror Host. The Elviras, the Bob Wilkins, and the Joe Bob Briggs of the world. Sure, there are still a few out thre plying their trade, Svengoolie is still going strong, we have on called Zomboo in my neck of the woods and some localities still have a few.
But for the most part, it's not really a thing anymore. And that's too bad because sometimes, they are as entertaining as the movies themselves. Perhaps even moreso.
For example, growing up, I used to watch a lot of Creature Feature with Bob Wilkins. Bob was a little different than a lot of horror hosts. Sure, he had all the tradtional props around him. A set full of skulls and cobwebs. He even had a skull candle with which to light his cigar. But his own persona wasn't that of some ghoul or vampire. It was just some mildy bemused guy, sitting in big old chair, surrounded all of this schlocky horror stuff and acting like it was the most normal thing in the world. In a way, that made him a bit creepier than if he put on a cape and some pancake makeup and pretended to be a vampire. More like a serial killer who finds a room full of skulls to be no weirder than a room full of Special Moments figurines.
Bob didn't take his job too seriously. I appreciate that even more now than then. He would often comment on just how bad the movie he was about to present was, sometimes making recommendations as to what was on other channels. Of course, for me, that only made me want to watch the movie even more. But there was a love for his job too, and that really shone through in a way that I can't really elucidate.
Creature Feature was also really my first exposure to "geek culture" too. It was on a channel out of Oakland, KTVU, which was an independant station in those days (It's Fox now, I believe) and I was in Yerington, Nevada, Several hundred miles away. So I couldn't go to any of the conventions or meet and greets he talked about, but he would always be talking about such things going on in The Bay Area. And he would have guests on his show to talk about things that now would be considered nerdy; horror movies, Star Trek, Star Wars, Sci-fi in general, to my 9 year old self, it was an amazing and wonderful world he opened up that I wanted to be a part of someday.
For a short time, he did a second show called "Captain Cosmic" during the day. He put on this fake superhero costume on a set meant to look like the bridge of a space ship, and presented things like UltraMan. I never really got into that, but I still watched the show religiously after school.
I found out in recent years that he moved to Reno in his retirement, prior to his death. I regret that I never bumped into him on the street to tell him how much I loved his show and how much of an influence he was on me. But he was as much an influence as my parents in many ways. And I hope to continue living his mantra "Watch Horror Films, Keep America Strong" for many years to come.
Lots of men would tell you that when they first started getting involved in something weird, they had a bad feeling. Something gnawing at the pit of their stomach telling them to stay away. A feeling they ignored. I think those men are liars. When I first picked up the bounty to haul in the Largo brothers, I never once suspected this would be the job that would open my eyes to the existence of things I never dreamed were true. There was no gnawing in the pit of my stomach, no prickling of the hairs on the back of my neck, nothing of the kind. But that was the case that first got me the reputation as the man to hire when a case came up that had undertones of the supernatural. And I went into it thinking it was no different than any of the other horse thieves and murderers I had spent my time tracking down since the end of the war.
I have always been a horror fan. From my first exposure to the genre, when was a kid watching Bob Wilkins present b grade (at best) horror movies on Creature Feature in the 70s, I was hooked. And now that I am a (mumble mumble) years old man, I still love horror. Which is why it baffles me that so little of it interests me these days.
I don’t know if its old age creeping up on me or if the genre isn’t doing so hot right now, but increasingly when I sit in my seat at my local movie theater, watching the trailers for coming attractions, when a horror trailer comes on, I find myself rolling my eyes and saying “nope. Looks stupid” more often than excitedly turning to my wife and saying, “We are definitely going to see that one!”
It’s sad. It’s like watching an old friend die drink themselves to death.
I think a lot of it is that horror is a REALLY easy genre to get wrong. There is a very fine line between taut psychological thriller and boring snoozefest or between gore filled action and mindless torture porn. And it isn’t always clear where those lines are. So, it makes sense that many, even most, attempts at it are going to misfire.
If I really sit and think about it, I think that it isn’t so much that horror is going downhill so much as it is a genre that just isn’t amenable to the way big studios make movies these days. I think its probably the niche-iest of niche genres and it just can’t be all things to all people. But studio films HAVE to be exactly that if they want to make back their enormous budgets. And while I can’t say that you can NEVER have a horror film with wide enough appeal to justify the kind of money a major studio release entails (The Conjuring series seems to be doing quite well, for instance, even if I personally don’t really enjoy it) but it seems a very easy thing to screw up. And it is screwed up, far too often.
So for me, it seems that the best horror I am finding these days is lower budget independent fare. Some weird little movie I notice while flipping through the horror selections on Netflix or whatever. It seems that a lower budget (provided it isn’t so low that it could be doubled by the director chipping in all the change in his car’s ash tray) is kind of liberating somehow. It allows the film makers to let the movie be what it is and not to even try to appeal to everyone. Is a lot of it crap nonetheless? Yeah, but in the immortal words of Theodore Sturgeon “90% of everything is crap” but I find a lot more to like in the lower budget fare than in the big studio films.
And maybe it has always been that way. Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s when local video stores were still a thing, and those damned kids weren’t on my lawn, I always had a lot more fun finding some stupid little scary movie that I had never heard of than I did watching the big names of the day like Jason or Freddy. So in the end, maybe it isn’t that horror has changed just that I have gotten more honest with myself.
In 1979, a little film called J-Men Forever came out and the world was…completely the same. Because the movie wasn’t really all that big of a hit and is little remembered today. Too bad, because it was a hilarious movie. The film is a mash-up of several old serials (Captain America, Captain Marvel, Flash Gordon, Spy Smasher and a few others) redubbed into the story of a villain called The Lightning Bug and his plan to conquer the Earth via sex, drugs and Rock & Roll. All the while the villain, rather than talking like a typical movie villain, patter like a mid-20th century radio DJ (which only makes sense as he was voiced by M.G. “Machine Gun” Kelly, a noted DJ of his time).
From the first scene in which record producer and purveyor of “Schmaltzy Waltzes” Lawrence Milk gets his car taken over by Lightning bug and run over a cliff (“I got the sound that’s gonna make you tap your feet. But don’t tap the brakes, baby, ‘CAUSE THEY DON’T WORK. AHAHAHAHAHAH!”) to the ending in which both the Moon (where the Lightning Bug is based out of) and New York City are destroyed, an event heralded as a double victory, it’s good for a lot of laughs.
It’s also fun on another level, seeing how many similarities there were in a lot of these old serials. The film makers were able to splice together a big fight in the Lightning Bug’s “Secret Broadcast Cave” with footage from several serials. But they all looked so similar that it really does give a convincing illusion of one big fight in one location. And a couple of times people in the film fell victims to booby traps at the mouth of the ‘Secret broadcast cave’, and of course these were from separate movies, but they looked like the same cave, so it was believable. And cars going off the sides of cliffs. SOOOOO many cars going off the sides of cliffs.
Some parts of the movie don’t hold up so well today. A lot of the humor derives from “hee hee, we’re smoking pot and sticking it to The Man” sort of jokes. Which might have been hilarious in 1979 but seems kind of quaint in an age where pot is increasingly legalized and The Man is getting a 15% cut on it in the form of taxes. ‘70s pothead humor just doesn’t hold up so much in 2018. And there is a scene set in Tokyo that is kind of cringe inducing, though probably no more than the original WW2-era footage they dubbed over. But if one takes it for what it is, it’s still a funny movie that I really recommend everyone check out.
Of course, there IS a problem with that recommendation, in that the movie is not only a bit on the obscure side, but also very hard to find these days. I have al old DVD of it, but I can’t find it on any streaming service at all. I found a badly chopped up copy that was recorded when the movie was a popular choice to show on USA’s Night Flight back in the 80s, complete with commercials which has a nostalgia appeal of its own. But if you can find it, well worth the search.
Larry Wilkins was in jail…again. The cop shoved him into his cell roughly and Larry let out a squealing “HWEEE HWEEE HWEEE”, like he always did when he got stressed out or angry. A skinny Mexican dude in the cell across from him heard it and found it hilarious.
“I’ll…HWEEE….I’ll kick your ass Fucker! HWEEE HWEEEE HWEEEE HWEEEE” Larry yelled. This only had the effect of making the guy laugh more.
And this was why he was in jail in the first place. He had been at a bar and his “Swine Tourette’s” as he called it kicked in. Someone started doing the bit from Deliverance, “Squeal like a pig, boy, squeal like a pig” and thought himself quite funny. Until Larry headbutted him in the chest, which became a fight, then cops, then here.
At least he had the cell to himself this time. He couldn’t get into any more trouble. And if he let out an occasional squeal, no one to laugh. His solitude only lasted a few hours though, until a well-dressed man entered the cell. It looked to Larry like Ming the Merciless had donned a business suit and carried a briefcase, the man had a bald head and a hawk like face with a pencil thin moustache. He simply said “I got you released on your own recognizance. Let’s go.” The man enunciated every syllable and sounded almost and sounded almost bored.
“Who are you?” Larry asked, then let out a little grunt.
“Your lawyer, let’s go” the man said.
“Let’s go. We can discuss this over coffee.”
They walked to a nearby Denny’s. Every attempt at conversation was squelched until they sat down and Larry said “I can’t pay you. And I hope this isn’t some weird sex thing because...” He trailed off because the bald man was fixing him with an annoyed stare. Larry just trailed off into a quiet “Condescending prick”
“I didn’t ask you to pay me. I am here to make you an offer. That you were in jail when I made this decision is purely coincidence, I assure you”, the bald man said before ordering a breakfast of bacon, eggs, sausage and ham and instructing Larry to order whatever he wanted, which was just coffee.
“What kind of offer?” Larry was eying him suspiciously while making soft little grunts and twitching his right leg. Things he did when he was nervous.
“I can help you. Your Tourette’s. Your temper. It’s all connected you see. And I can make it go away.”, the man said without his face betraying a hint of emotion.
“Okay, now I know you are bulshitting me. Doctor’s said they can’t cure it. They can give me meds, but I don’t like the side effects. I don’t like….HWEEE…Fuckers like you…..HWEEEEE….Yanking my fucking chain!”, Larry slammed his coffee down and noticed that the everyone else was looking at them before sullenly quieting down and talking in an angry whisper “And what the fuck do you mean about my temper, asshole? I don’t have a temper, just no patience for fuckfaces like you.”
“I am not a doctor. But I can still help you. Here.” The man said while he fumbled around in the briefcase, before pulling out a vial of a silvery liquid. “Drink this.”
“Fuck you” Larry said
“I assure you it won’t harm you. Why would I want to harm you. Just drink it, if it doesn’t do what I say Then finish your coffee, go home and our business is concluded. If it does, then hear me out.”
Larry took it and drank. Seconds later the bald man said in a venomous tone “Now, you stupid loser, squeal like a pig for me.”, then he flicked a sugar packet into Larry’s face.
Larry was immediately surprised, the Deliverance thing was his pet peeve. One of his many berserk buttons. So was being called a loser. But he didn’t feel anything. No rush of temper, no involuntary squeal. Just puzzlement at why this strange man was acting that way.
“I rest my case” the man said, “The vial I gave you should only work for a minute or two, just enough to demonstrate my point. But, if we can agree to terms, I can cure you permanently.”
“And just what do I gotta do for this cure, suck your dick?” Larry asked, “I already told you I don’t have money”
“Nothing so pedestrian, Larry. It’s simple. I want you to kill a man.”
“This is where I make it easy for you. Anyone you want. The man you were fighting with. Find a child molester. Some stranger. Doesn’t matter to me.” The bald man slid Larry a phone, just call me when it’s done. My number is the only one on that phone. As long as you aren’t so stupid as to do it, say, in the middle of a police station or something, I can help you avoid being caught. And I will give you a far larger dose of the cure. One that should remove your affliction for the rest of your life.”
Larry looked at the phone as the waitress brought the man’s breakfast. “Just keep the phone. Think about it. But don’t think too long…” The man said while making a shooing motion indicating that it was time for Larry to leave. And, getting away from this crazy asshole who was going to get him put in prison seemed like a very good idea.
Days passed and Larry put the strange encounter with the bald man out of his mind. He kept the cell phone, it never rand and there was indeed only one number on it. But otherwise, he just considered it the weird capper to a bad night. A week after the strange encounter, Larry did what he usually did on Fridays, went to a bar to have a few drinks.
He was just starting to nurse his second beer, by himself in his favorite secluded corner of his favorite quiet bar when he heard a familiar voice.
“Got a squeal for me piggy? Oink oink?” it was the redneck asshole who he had gotten into it with last weekend. And he was busting himself up laughing.
Larry tried to ignore him but that never worked. He could feel rage rising in him as he got up. Simultaneously, he let out a string of squeals at the same time. This caused the redneck to laugh even harder. “I knew you had it in you, Piggy. That’s a good piggy. Squeal for me some more…”
Whatever he intended to say after that was interrupted by the 250 lb bulk of Larry Wilkins shoulder smashing him into a wall. And then, just like the previous week, a fight ensued. Larry squealed and honked as he pounded on the redneck. Apparently, the body check had knocked the wind out of the guy, people were trying to pull Larry off but adrenaline and rage took over. The Redneck pulled a knife, but Larry twisted it out of his hand. Took hold of it and stabbed the redneck 17 times. Everyone backed up and before anyone else could react, he was out the door.
Larry paused in a filthy alley, and without even thinking about it, he reached into his pocket where the bald man’s cell phone lay. He didn’t mean to kill the man? Had he? He wasn’t sure himself. A part of him felt relieved that he could now get the cure. He dialed the number and before he could say anything he heard the bald man’s voice say “You did it. Excellent. I will be right there. And no more than a minute later, a black SUV rolled up to the alley and the door opened. “Get in” said the bald man’s voice from within.
Larry got in and the bald man tossed him a clear sports bottle, filled with the same silvery liquid from the week before. “You earned it. Drink up.”
Larry looked at the bottle. Remembered how much pain his condition brought him. How it had just culminated in a man’s death. What he didn’t notice was that he was transforming. Growing wiry hair all over his body. Growing tusks. He chugged it. And calm overcame him, just calm. He had no fear, no anger, nothing.
“Feeling Good, Piggy? How about a squeal?” The bald man turned and said. He then stabbed a small knife into Larry’s bicep and then licked off the blood after he withdrew it. Larry felt the pain, but he couldn’t bring himself to react. Not so much as a yelp or a squeal.
“You know, I was beginning to think you would never do it.” The bald man said as he drove, “You are a wereboar. That’s your Tourette’s. That’s your temper. When you killed that man, you fully embraced your nature.”
Larry just nodded, numb, blissful. It made sense but he didn’t care
“My kind finds your kind far too delicious for that. So now, I have given you your form and taken your will. Oh, and I just realized how rude I was since we met. I never gave you my name. My name is Mr. Wolf.” and face was already changing into a furry grey muzzle.
My first story will be up tomorrow but for now, let’s talk about a very grave topic, The Blind Dead.
Grave, geddit? Because they are dead you see and…. Aww never mind.
Anyway, if you have never seen it, The Blind Dead, is a series of horror films made in Spain in the 1970s. The first film (Tomb of the Blind Dead) has a group of people disturbing an old castle that used to house an order of Templars who were executed for various foul crimes and is supposed to be cursed. Of course it is, in fact, cursed and the undead templars kill everyone, no saving throw. The following three films are very much in the same vein, though there is no real continuity between them except for the presence of the aforementioned Blind Dead.
The films look every bit like the low budget they were and the acting? Well, let’s just say that apparently if you were shooting a film on the cheap in Spain in 1972, you took what you could get in the way of actors. The Blind dead themselves often looked like someone took the fake skeleton from a science classroom, tacked on some fake cobwebs and ratyy clothing and moved the thing around on a string. Not the most impressive special effects by any means.
Still, it is one of my favorite horror series. It still manages to get a spooky atmosphere despite its shortcomings. Not sure how, either. I can’t explain it. But it does. And besides, it gets zombies right.
You see one problem I have so many modern zombie movies is that they try so hard to make such an implausible thing plausible. Usually it’s a virus. Viruses don’t work particularly fast (That flu you are coming down with…you probably contracted that a week ago and are only feeling it now) and they aren’t magic. They can’t make a body that has suffered damage or organ failure suddenly start walking around again. And why don’t zombies eat other zombies? And so on. I can suspend disbelief as much as the next guy, but an explanation is an attempt at making the idea plausible, so it should be…well…plausible. And it usually is not. Not by a long shot.
Night of the Living Dead got around the problem by just not explaining a goddam thing. The dead are just getting up, walking around and eating people. Ok? Now shut up and watch the movie. And that’s fine but is a bit of a cop out. In The Blind Dead it’s magic. It’s the result of a curse. And as far as I am concerned, magic is really the only thing that can explain a zombie. No other explanation really works. Yet so many zombie movies shy away from that explanation. The Blind Dead did not and that fact alone puts it miles ahead of Zombie Terrror Nightmare City VI: The Zombinating or whatever random zombie movie one finds on Netflix these days.
So in the end, what I am trying to say is this. Go find one of the Blind Dead films (doesn’t matter which, you can watch them in any order). If you like schlocky horror movies, you will be glad you did
Ray Bradbury is purported to have said "To become a great writer, write a story every week. It's impossible to write 52 bad stories in a row"
I say "CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!". My plan is to write 52 stories in a row. We'll see about that, Mr. Bradbury. We'll see. Not novels or anything, but 52 short brain drippings from a very twisted mind, my own. With the occasional musing on life, movies, and so on in between. Maybe some food too. I am not a focused man.
Who am I? Well, nobody really. Just a guy who wants to write some stories and isn't going to let a little thing like "Lack of talent" get in my way. But as anyone who knows the kind of films I love to watch, that puts me in some pretty good company. I have been watching horror films since Bob Wilkins was hosting Creature Feature on KTVU out of Oakland in the 70s and I was a weird little kid in a small desert town, hundreds of miles away, watching that show and loving every badly edited minute of it. Schlock is in my soul. And now I want to try my hand at it. If nothing else, it will be my little tribute to a genre I love, even if only in written form.
So 'Get into duh choppah" as Arnold would say. Join me, won't you?