2010: Week 47 Blots

BLOT: (28 Nov 2010 - 11:36:42 PM)

Evergreen, AL's Municipal Park: the 2010 Black Friday Hike (with photos)

The first Black Friday Hike was on Monte Santo. Did something like 6 miles. Second year, roughly the same thing, except on Thanksgiving Day itself (I was back in retail). Third year, which was last year, the much more strenuous Walls of Jericho. Basically, then, we have three years with three roughish hikes with Sarah and I accompanied by at least one other person. This year? Well...didn't happen.

We were down in Evergreen, visiting my mom, and there is only real hiking location on the South-side of the State not the Gulf Shores State Park: the Conecuh National Forest (despite the name, it is about an hour away from Conecuh County). I have been there before, hiked the "Crystal Springs" trail which ended up being far too long to bring three youngish children along with and expect to be back before dark. I've wanted to repeat it for some time, more proper hike style, but one downside is the old CNF allows hunting during open season (and the day after Thanksgiving is something of the most open hunting day of all). Which is also why Sarah and I did not get out and just "make our own trail" since so much of the South-'Bama landscape is just trees and old dirt roads.

Also, the weather wasn't the best for hiking. Pop-up storms and fairly consistent drizzles meant anything with a chance of being muddy probably would be and there was a chance of worse weather brewing at any moment. I had a backup plan of getting out and walking around Evergreen itself for a few hours, but we ended up going to the Park. I have been there before with a camera, and in fact, the first 14 pics of this earlier Evergreen photo gallery are of the Park.

The Evergreen Municipal Park is kind of small, maybe about 15 acre park located a mile or two South (and East) of 31 on what might still be called "Main Street". Looking around for some official facts, this one picture of the opening sign and staff is the only thing I found. Here's a Google Maps sattelite view of the Evergreen City Park (as we all called it). Gives you an idea of the layout. Maybe 1500ft at the widest axis either way, surrounded by a single-lane paved trail that doubles as a road and goes on for maybe a mile. The park's lake dominates the southern section, along with two playgrounds (one older and metal, one newer and wooden) and a log cabin about the center. The northern section has a series of ball fields.

One of the salient features to making the park worthy of photography is the fact that it has several renovations over the years, usually at a time after the other renovations have started to show age. This means you have some sections that look kind of new, and some that look old and decayed, and then some sections that are even older that look relatively ok. When I was young, there was a metal playground that still is around. About, ooo, maybe 15-20 years ago, they built the wooden playground. I'm not sure when the Cabin came about. The pavilions have been around for a bit, but I think have been recently redone. At one point a dozen or two concrete park benches were laid out, and now half of them are collapsing but some are holding up ok. Sometime in there, they put up a couple of wooden walk bridges over to the side of the road, maybe implying there was going to be a more legitimate trail made, but nothing seems to have come of it. Then you add in the fact that the one side, the more Northern angle, of the park has some clearcutting or something going on, and the North-Eastern edge has some sort of factor building right there, and it is an odd overall sight.

Picture of a mixture of standard city park natural hints mixed with urban decay, out of season trash, graffiti, grey skies, unraked leaves, and leaning signs and you have a good idea of what Sarah and I were looking at on November 26, 2010. Don't get me wrong: I have played and had a good time in this park for many years. It is just, well, it has seen better days and the overall dreariness of the day (including distance crow caws and only four other people, total, the time we were there) added to a nice, dystopian flavor. Seriously, a post-apocalyptic live action RPG would have been right at home, here.

As a final warning, there is something like 120 pictures in this album. I normally cull down any album to about 20-30 shots but this one kind of took more to get the point across. If you want to see it in Picasa Gallery Form: Evergreen Municipal Park. Or, you can look at the slideshow, below. In general, the pictures are clockwise around the park, starting in the South-Eastish end. Rain increased steadily from about the last two pictures of the playground (see gallery) so the last quarter has only a couple of shots (though some of my favorites). The last few shots, and the first few, are not in the park, but are on the way towards, or while leaving. The very first shot is my mom's backyard, that looks all nice and grown up (and at night has tons of rabbits). The last shot is a strange oddity called "The Pepto Bridge". I don't know.

And for those who don't have time to see the gallery, or watch the slide-show, here are my three favorites: the disused fire hydrant by the lake, the metal versus wood walkway, and the shot of nature trying to find a way (but overall failing). The two that probably best capture the dystopian feel I was talking about? Probably the decaying parking lot leading up to the playground and the thick plank wired to the boxsprings.

LABEL(s): Hiking, Photos

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 47
BY MONTH: November 2010

BLOT: (24 Nov 2010 - 01:11:43 PM)

The Full-Moon'ed Weekend, a Trip South...

The past week or so has been, well, boring in a macroscopic way. Like, if you were to zoom out and then examine it, you would mostly see me reading blog posts about whether or not AMC theaters are showing anti-vaccine ads, about how this or that groping in airport is offensive or is not offensive, about how some patron at some library branch decided that "vaguely threatening" was the atmosphere that they should give off in order to get the best service. Work, but not so much school, has intervened. Lots of e-refs. Have not done much else. Was sick for a few days, blogged about that. Got over it about a week ago, and have since drifted through doing very little outside of reading, playing (slightly) a game or two, reading rules for RPGs, and, well, I guess sitting around. When you do a tally on the things you have done for the past few weeks, you expect for there to be some definite things right? Not just: "Nothing, I guess."

Which leads me to one important conclusion: I have done things, I am just forgetting them. Why am I so forgetful? I have no idea. I think October wounded me or something, with its massive assignments and busy-busy schedule busy. Mandatory one month healing time before I roll 3d10 and compare to figure 4-16: Healing from Life, Adjusted for Mental Fortitude. Which means in two weeks, I stand to heal from 3-4 minor wounds and 1-2 major wounds. *fingers crossed*

Since the weekend and the week prior has been plenty weird, in its own way, I have been trying to think up some of the highlights, which I will dish below, for your short and temporary amusement:

And those are three vignettes (and one bonus) from my full moon weekend. Any fun stories on your account?

My sister-in-law is off visiting her cute and *fingers crossed* rich boyfriend in Japan. That's right, she's in Japan. "Seeing the sites" and "eating the food". Feel free to rib her for making a 7000 mile booty call. God knows I will. "You wanted to see Tokyo? Riiiiight.". She said she got to see the Tokyo Tower (*wink* *wink* say no more), which I told her she should take a photo of herself like she is a dai-kaiju trying to tear it down. Because, that's right, Japan, my understanding of your culture is forever filtered through my massive collection of tokusatsu. How massive? God, I don't know. I have something like 8 full Kamen Rider series (about 50 eps, each), 3 or 4 full Super Sentai series, 4-5 complete Ultra series, every single Godzilla and Gamera movie, and a good dozen of Toho's "SPECIAL EFFECTS IN SPACE...starring Nick Adams" movies. A lot. And if there is one thing I know: Tokyo Tower? It's doomed. And you thought this paragraph was going to be about Alicia? Nope...all about how awesome my import TV-show collection is.

Speaking of trips to places where Tokyo Tower won't be destroyed but where a header might take place, I am going down this afternoon to see my mom for Thanksgiving. The last time I did that was, possibly, 2004 or 2005. Really, since retail guaranteed me a Black Friday early shift. That would have been 2004 to start, and then I worked retail up until 2007, when I went on the "Black Friday Hike". 2008 I was back in retail. 2009 had another hike. So yeah, maybe I went down in 2004 and it looks like 2003 when I went with Sarah our first year together. It is long overdue. Our trip will be kind of brief, because I am not quite done with the semester and the aforementioned October drained both of our reserves so we have to kind of hit the ground running next week and little time to recoup (honestly, we should have probably taken this weekend to recharge, but oh well). At any rate, sometime around Friday or Saturday, I'll be starting a picture upload process and you'll get to see lots of Evergreen and Flatrock and what have you photos.

Have a good Thanksgiving, everyone!

LABEL(s): Me in 2010

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 47
BY MONTH: November 2010

BLOT: (23 Nov 2010 - 02:43:00 PM)

Arthur Machen's The Three Imposters and Other Stories (The Best Weird Tales of Arthur Machen, Vol. 1), as editd by S.T. Joshi

Ok, I've gone back and forth and thought about this review. I have not read the second volume (will soon), but this is how it seems to me. This book contains two important works: "The Great God Pan" and The Three Impostors. "The Great God Pan" is something of misstep that mashes together two different short stories. The first, and smallest, is the best: a scientist opens up the doors of perception and the horrible truths of the Outside comes pouring in (the first and final "chapters"). The second, the bulk, deals with sexual horrors and is basically how bad a particular woman is (because of, you know, sexual horrors). Toss in a small twist to bring them back to together and you have a satisfying, but potentially so much more, product.

The Three Impostors? You could write an entire book of discussion about what is meant and what could have been implied. A series of stories inside of stories are told, some with stories inside of them, many with a horror bend, and all linking back, however falsely and tentatively, with the search for a young man with spectacles and a gold coin. Of the various interlocked tales (four of which are pitched as "novels", fantastical stories told by one character to another), the two most important are "Novel of the Black Seal" and "Novel of the White Powder". "Seal" deals with hidden truths and the unknown things hidden in the history of man, and is very important to what is usually recognized as Lovecraftian horror. "Powder" is much more classic horror, a white powder that helps a overzealous student of law regain some zest and vivre. Except it goes awry. Right up there with "Colour out of Space" (Lovecraft) and "Voice in the Night" (Hodgson) as a classic of the consumed-from-within horror.

The four novels and five or six "real" tales of The Three Impostors are subtitled "The Transmutations", and most of the stories involve some element of things changing. However, the connection between the storylines and change can be tenuous in places. I think I get it, but I wouldn't be absolutely sure. And are the interlocking stories where one character might tell a story told them to someone else a statement about the nature of legend? "Black Seal", with its commentary about legends wrapped in legends and lost folklore, suggest that it is at least part of it. Outside of that, you have one story involving mistaken identity, one involving the danger of looking for the past, one involving the danger of certain hobbies, and one about the downsides to medical science (sort of).

As for the remaining, more minor tales, you have "The Inmost Light" and "The Shining Pyramid". "The Inmost Light" is interesting, but at its core is a coincidence that makes the entire oeuvre of Dickens sound plausible. If the whole thing was written in reverse sequence (except the end would still be the end), it would be better. "The Shining Pyramid" has some neat mysticism, but is done better in "The Novel of the Black Seal".

Still, the bookends—"Pan" and Impostors—are very worthy tales and I'm sad it took me this long to read them. Those two get a Good, with Imposters leaning towards Great, and the other two get something like a Meh because what good they did was largely done by Impostors better.

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 47
BY MONTH: November 2010

BLOT: (23 Nov 2010 - 02:16:08 PM)

Jim Trombetta's The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books the Government Didn't Want You to Read!

I am reposting reviews that I have posted elsewhere for a couple of days. This one originally showed up on Goodreads. This version is pretty close to the original.

This book is two things in one. First, it is Jim Trombetta's reminisces, anecdotes, and discussion about the horror comics from the 1950s, before "The Code" shut them down. Secondly, it is a collection of lots and lots and lots of rare covers and panels of art from those comics. As the EC trio—Tales from the Crypt, Vault of Horror, Haunt of Fear—are well known and still reproduced today, Trombetta focuses mostly on all the others that have been forgotten. He even tosses out the statistic (I have no person way of confirming right now) that E.C. only accounted for about 3% of the horror coming outpouring. However, the comics he offers up as samples of non-E.C. work are largely either an E.C. rip-off or only questionably horror. There are some excellent examples not under either of those yokes, but just saying.

Still, the majority of the artwork in this book has been practically forgotten, which is worth the cover price alone. L.B. Cole's early proto-psychedelic art, Hy Fleishman's many takes on the human skeleton, the rotted semi-mouths that the undead speak through, the dozen takes on the red dress, and don't forget the spider webs (no actual spider required, but the spider web does have to be huge. It might be surprising to see multiple covers of facial explosions (is there a technical term for this?) or rotting flesh and moderately obvious homo-eroticism (as is pointed out, one artist, Don Heck, loved to paint pictures of male monsters attacking prostrate men, often with artistic focus on the attacker's crotch) and to realize that these sat on newsstands and were designed specifically to rope in buyers. I mean, I know the idyll 1950s is a myth created, probably, in the 1960s-1980s as a contrast, but it still dials home how much garish violence sold even then..

As for the second half, the commentary, it can be hit or miss. In some sections, Trombetta nails the hypocrisy and overwrought panic of the officials that were gunning were comic censorship [see Comic Code Authority's Charles Murphy who objects to a sympathetic black character in a story about overcoming racism]. He expounds on common motifs and ideas, summing up large chunks of an era. In others, though, he breaks out the psychoanalysis stick and beats you in the face with some pop-lit critique that is never 100% off the mark, but comes across as trite. Even then, it reads like a fan talking to fan, and that is something I can always dig.

Getting to the see the comics is Great. Reading through the commentary ranges from Meh to Good, so I'll grant the book a Good overall.

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 47
BY MONTH: November 2010

BLOT: (23 Nov 2010 - 01:12:47 PM)

Ramsey Campbell's Secret Story

I am reposting reviews that I have posted elsewhere for a couple of days. This one originally showed up on Goodreads. This version is probably triple the length of the original.

Ok, imagine you are a serial killer. Like most serial killers, you like to keep some sort of trophy for your kills, but your trophies aren't anything physical, just stories with changed names and slightly changed circumstances. Stories that tell about how your victim deserved it because she disrespected you, didn't see how great you were, did not understand how important you were. You write these stories for years, but keep your killing down enough that no one even realizes they have a serial killer on hand. Then your mom, your overbearing, loving mom, sends in one of the stories to a local writing contest. And it gets excepted. And, when some controversy breaks out, because one family thinks the story is just a little close to how their daughter died, the magazine use your story as a bit of publicity. There is even a low-budget local movie in the works. Rather than shy away from it, imagine that you start delighting in finally getting respect, and everything cracks open.

Has enough dreaded creep to it to fill a half-dozen books, but its plodding (not in a bad way) and unrelenting story telling can make it rough to read through it bit...by...bit. Dudley, the killer, finds his life sliding sideways, and the reader is treated to people mocking him without him even knowing or, when he knows, not quite being able to understand. Campbell regularly contrasts the insanity of what Dudley is actually saying against what the people who are using him want to hear. At his job, the coworkers that consider him young and weak and, for some reason, destined to end up with a vapid, overweight coworkers. This trivialization is not offered even as excuse or justification, just simply as bricks of fact in the pathetic wall that is his life.

As Dudley starts being drawn to a woman assigned to work with him, where other (and in his mind, lesser, I am sure) men would get flirty and/or shy, he begins to plot how he can add her to his list of "stories". Rather than make her a victim in a few short pages, Campbell makes it is the bulk of the novel, and Dudley's plans are slow as molasses. When they do come, Campbell reaches the top of some horrible game as he describes Dudley's breakdown from the inside. Looking at the victim that he has taped up, covering her entire face, he blames the victim for not looking human enough. For not being able to talk—through her gag—about how she feels. He begins to blame her from being tied up and tortured, for being a worm. A package only for his own enjoyment. Frustratingly accurate insights like that can make this a hard book to read when you factor in the aforementioned slowness, but it is worth it if a thoughtful, carefully planned examination appeals to you more than action sequences sqeezed in for effect.

Took me a week to make it through, found it best to go through only bits of a time (anything faster and I might have started skipping some pages), but frankly, it was a Good look at serial killers and the overall meandering emptiness of modern life.

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 47
BY MONTH: November 2010

BLOT: (23 Nov 2010 - 12:44:04 PM)

Stephen King's Full Dark, No Stars

I am reposting reviews that I have posted elsewhere for a couple of days. This one originally showed up on Goodreads. This version is edited, slightly expanded in places, and otherwise refined.

Before I get to talking about the pluses and minuses of this book, I want to point out what this book represents to me. I see it not so much as a return to form, or whatever various buzzwords are floating around about it, but more as an exploration of certain key themes that have surfaced a number of times in King's prolific fiction. If you go all the way back to his "Bachman Book" days (ignoring, as I am sure most do, The Regulators, but you can include Blaze) his Carrie and Cujo days, you find a handful of stories that increasingly fluff up, increasingly pad their text, but dwell heavily on four things: 1) brutality and its associated "corporal breakdown" as a release [wanted or not] from normality, 2) the everyday person in horrible situations, 3) the negative aspects of masculinity, and 4) horror as representative of the overall breakdown in day-to-day stability. Usually by exploring creative, obsessive types who go too far, or by exposing supposedly convivial relationships at their most vulnerable and near breaking point. What is The Shining, or Pet Semetary, or "Children of the Corn", or even The Stand if not an exploration of those above four themes? Violence destroys your life and frees your life, and much of King's violence exudes from the Yang side of things.

Now we have Full Dark, No Stars, a collection of four stories (depending on how you want to count it, you could say anywhere from four novellas to maybe three novellas and a short story, or maybe a short novel and etc etc...). All of them involve bad men. Literally men. For all the earned complaints of King painting women as harpy bitch queens (watch the first 30 minutes of the new Children of the Corn movie...), he usually hands the murdering, sadistic glee card to a male. Skip the psychoanalysis, or the statistics about real crimes, I just assume it is because he is dealing with what the brash bravado sold to men through TV and books and whatnot really means when it comes to quiet time with families about.

You have these bad men, and two of them are the protagonist of their giving story. One's a wife murderer and the other makes a desperate wish for more time. The other two are antagonists: a husband with a secret and a massive truck-driving rapist. In each, they do a bad thing, and other people deal with it. Most by a somewhat impotent suffering (a couple get revenge, if that is the right word, but somewhat sloppily and, of course, after suffering). Three involve the stresses of marriage and how bad things happen because of it, to cause it, or just around it (or maybe in spite of it). Two of the marriages are almost atypically typical. The third, in the first story, has some stress involved but it is not out-of-plumb levels of stress. The second story doesn't have a marriage, but something of a status quo, another life marked by normality. All four deal with changes coming on with age and time, and dealing with shifts in situtations. Basically, we have the four themes above: violence as the break from routine, the destruction of normality as horror, the negative aspects of masculinity, and everyday people thinking everyday thoughts when bad, bad things happen.

This is a King book, so you have references to hobbies, catalogs, everyday joys, little swap papers, Modern Family, pop sodas, and out of the way diners that no one else ever seems to remember in the way he remembers. He is kin to Bradbury in this regard: not merely summing up the past as location, but bending the past into a mythical landscape where things, OTHER things, might have happened.

This then sums up the ideas around the book, the connection it has to all of his stories. The way that it it represents a sparse, bare reveal of his main theses. How about the stories themselves? Well, *waggles hands*. All of them are fair, at least. Three of them go on a little long for maximum punch.

"1922"—above a farmer who kills his wife after involving his son and then has a bit of a breakdown (being a King novel, literally and figuratively)—takes 140 pages to squeeze out maybe a 100 pages of narrative focus and literary devices. There are at least 60 good and 20 great pages in it. Much of it, though, is foreshadowing of an event that would really, honestly suck if you were the dad but fails to punch the reader because you've spent two-thirds of the story being told something is coming, and by the time it gets there you realize that you've been off in left field, thinking of realllllly horrible things and what you get is much more of a logical conclusion to a bad situation. Could have been one of the best uses of Dramatic Irony out there (we the reader know the Dust Bowl is coming and the land he begrudges his wife enough to kill her will soon be worthless for a decade), but King sort of deflates that plainly. I am being a tad overly harsh on the story, since there are some outright gruesome moments here (probably the roughest of the four as far as teat-shredding details goes), and the reader is never quite sure how much of it is internal breakdown in our narrator and how much of it happened (I lean towards the "All Breakdown" camp, but your mileage may vary).

"Big Driver"—about a raped woman who wants her revenge—could have been a solution to all those crappy "pro-woman" rape-revenge movies that spend half the time lasciviously piling on rape details and then hand waving away the revenge as some cheap, schlocky special effect. I know that's a byproduct of the technology, but inverting the horror movie pattern where the monster comes at the end except the victim is the "monster" and there is reason fails to work if you make them look ridiculous or over the top. I hate hate that genre and its many, many missteps. I had hopes this novella would fix my issues, and it did to some degree. The horror happens to a fairly self-obsessed, introspective person who spends time making up voices when she is alone, which is a good start. Lots to work with in a written setting. As the mental breakdown continues, though, and therefore her view of reality blurs, we could have had confusion and uncertainty (see "1922"), but what we get is one of the most explained endings I have ever seen in a horror story. Part of me wants to assume that all the exposition was inside the breakdown. Really, on a scale of one to so pat it hurts, this story is all the way to eleven.

"Fair Extension": awesome. Seriously. 30+ pages about the way we remember our good fortune, about how we react to the bad. About how we really feel. Real deals with the devil. Real wishful thinking. And, right as you are ready for the ending you have been trained to expect, BAM! King pulls off the finest twist ending ever. Because, well, without spoiling it you and I have been trained to react in a certain way, and he denied us that. The story involves a man who is given a "life extension" in exchange for another person's quality of life. He agrees, and then most of the story is watching the breakdown of his mostly innocent victim. As the pages run out, you build up tension looking for the backlash, and what happens is possibly the coldest, most heartless thing that King has ever put to paper. This is almost a Lovecraftian story, about the utter inhumanity of the cosmos.

"Good Marriage"—the final story and about twice the length of the previous—is alright but takes an awfully long time to get going, and then doesn't have much of a place to go when it gets there, besides tight, tense circles with only a couple of dire exists. Mostly is about what you think about after the fact. Seriously. I could hate the novella and the way, like "Big Driver", it gives a final few pages to make sure that you know it's going to be ok, completely stripping the gut wrenching impact of the middle, but the fact that you can't know everything even about the ones you love the most is a bold statement in this day and age of no-secrets. If King spends too long trying to fling the "It's boring but happy!" card around, it is hard to think how the story could have been told in any other way. I'll give it the second largest thumbs up from the book, because though its imagery is not quite as gruesome as "1922", and its punch is deflated in the final section, somewhat, its message is likely the most honestly horrible in the whole thing. Screw truckers along backroads, it's the evil the spouse sleeping next to you has done that will keep you up at night.

From worse to best. "Driver" worries too much about offending women with its talk of rape and revenge, and while I appreciate going into details about why women might not want to report the assaults against them, it could have easily been half as long if it did not have to get all the puzzle pieces together just right. At least it glorifies the rape less than the revenge, unlike many of its brethren. "1922" could have been the quintessential King story, all about the breakdown of one family in contrast to the breakdown of a way of life with strong strokes of gruesome reality dripping through, but spends a long time telling you what's going show up and by the time it gets there, I guess it figures it doesn't need to dwell. "Marriage" is chilling, in an after the fact sort of way, and its brutal description of one death scene in an everyday place with every day things about adds a lot of flavor to contrast the happy home it invades. "Fair Extension" shows one way to reset the old stories that we have heard for 50+ years from the Twilight Zone and various E.C. comic replicas. Once this book hits paperback, it will be worth the $7.99 on its awesome lonesome. You'll feel like crap, in a good way, after reading it.

All four stories have some excellent moments of character probing, some of the best that King has done (but not as good as the maybe overly wistful character explorations in parts of From a Buick 8 and Hearts in Atlantis). Three of them, though, just fail to connect the dots as well as they could, mostly because two fo them want to take time to tell you that it really is ok and don't you worry, and that's the worst thing to do to a horror story. And though a lot of his light shines—his microscopic lens of the everyday—it often oversteps its own sense of earnestness, like he is being wistful more for his own sense of wistfulness past, rather than for the past that inspired it.

Final Rating: Slightly closer to Good than Fair.

LABEL(s): Horror novels, Books

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 47
BY MONTH: November 2010

BLOT: (22 Nov 2010 - 07:59:21 PM)

Eleanor M. Ingram's The Thing in the Lake

Note, like a lot of the book reviews that are about to be posted en masse this one was originally posted on Goodreads (link to original review). This version represents an edited and expanded rewrite. It is not expanded all that much, but a litte...

My history with this book starts with, I think, ManyBooks.net. I did not have the Kindle at that time, though I later went on to read it on the device, and so I was probably looking for ePubs to upload to Bookworm. This is neither here, nor there, really, besides to say I chose this book not for any particular reason outside of it was available and it had a cool sounding name.

I tried liking this book for some time, and it never gelled. In fact, after the plot stops being about "The thing from the lake" (5 pages in, and intimated mostly as plops and gurgles heard at night, though of course there is another thing in the lake, but who really gives a crap after you have spent two hundred hours hearing a man bemoan a piece of stupid hair...but I digress...) and is more about how this one lonely dude has a really big hard on for this long haired (I know, that's twice I mentioned hair, it's apparently really important) woman that visits him in the night...and how awesome that is...and how...you know...like, don't sacrifice yourself for me because I love you...and might be allegory about nocturnal emissions as much as anything and the euphoria versus guilt of having them... I started going off it.

There are about three scenes that are worth reading, but the conclusion really is par for the course. Oh, and the twist, which is a term I use ironically since it was much more of a "Oh, the thing you thought was happening, it is much more boring than that and there is no mystery". I spoiled it, maybe, not really, but screw it.You're welcome. Seeing as this is one of those books out in the public domain which doesn't seem to have a real in-print edition, it might be neat to see what kind of books didn't become popular. Outside of that, the biggest thing going for the book is that it's a very early example of the dark romance genre, technically.

Final rating? Blech. Thought about rewriting this book at one point in time, but now probably can't be bothered to think about it, anymore.

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 47
BY MONTH: November 2010

BLOT: (22 Nov 2010 - 07:17:08 PM)

August Derleth's The Watchers Out of Time: Fifteen Soul Chilling Tales by HP Lovecraft [and August Derlerth]

Note, like a lot of the book reviews that are about to be posted en masse this one was originally posted on Goodreads (link to original review). This version represents an edited and expanded rewrite. This review, more than most, contains very very little of the original review and is greatly expanded.

I read this years ago, and hated it. I am not even sure why it got my dander up that much, but I have ideas. I had read the Arkham House collection—The Dunwich Horror and Others (or something to that effect)—and loved it. Changed my view of what sort of things work well as horror. Around Evergreen, it was one of the few books available (and this was the Jefferson Davis Community College library) that had Lovecraft, as opposed to just mentions of Lovecraft. After I had read it, I had nothing else to go on...until I got The Watchers Out of Time shortly after moving to Huntsville. I even bragged to a friend about how awesome Lovecraft had been. Then I read it, and it piecemeal stories with derivative plots and stilted writing. It was like taking a friend to see some movie, because the director or star is usually top notch, and it's worse than dreck drivel. You stand there, money spent, and you feel not just betrayed but also like you have publicly declared your utter lack of taste. Sure, Lovecraft has some issues in the writing department ("The Dunwich Horror" starts off in a heady blend of mood setting and adverb vomiting), but this was not to be admired.

It was not until later that I found out the truth of this volume: it is not Lovecraft. This is the collection of "collaborations" that Derleth wrote, in varying degrees but some suspect nearly totally, based some how on the notes of Lovecraft. Some might have been sentences, story fragments, discussions they had. At any rate, Lovecraft's presence in here is mostly in the types of stories, not in the actual words. Once you realize this, you can enjoy this more. For what that is worth.

A friend recently got it for me as a birthday gift, this newer edition, and so I started re-reading it. It's not that bad (how amazing a review is that? "It did not kill me...") A weird mix of new ideas, "sequels" to Lovecraft stories that did not need sequels, ret-conning of Lovecraft's mythos, and fanfic. A few of the more originally minded stories, and even those are a new and bold definition of original largely based on being the opposite, could probably be added back to a collection of Lovecraft proper and not be detested outright. Still, there is as much to like as to hate, here, and a couple of the stories are quite interesting on their own. I liked the "Dunwich Horror" sequel: "The Shuttered Room", but mostly to the degree that sort of sounds out like a good friend describing the build up to an RPG session (Derleth was spinning Call of Cthulhu RPG adventure hooks before RPGs were even invented, who knew). My other favorites would have been the somewhat uneven "Wentworth's Day" and the needed-a-slightly-different-punch "The Ancestor" (which is basically the story of Altered States but less New Agey and more reptilian). In fact, "The Ancestor" is potentially the most important of the tales because it directly folds back on the most common theme of Lovecraft's horror: there is no particular dignity in being human.

Nadirs include the "The Lamp of Alhazred", which would have earned groans if given away for free on a Lovecraft fan board (Just picture the user name, now, "Auggie D"), and the end of "The Witches Hollow", when a complete lack of tension or danger is created by deus ex Great Ones. Elder things. Outer Gods. What. Ever. Seriously. I once posted to the alt.horror.cthulhu newsgroup a list of things that could make the story better, and there were about a dozen. I was a crappy writer at the time, probably still am, but even I could see a dozen flaws in that story that needed to be fixed. Whether it is worse than "The Street" or "Polaris" is beside the point. Those two read like juvenalia that are only being reprinted now because who their writer became. "The Witches Hollow" reads like something that a grown man wrote and delighted in writing about how big and badass the black depths of horror are, and how it doesn't really matter because bits of shaped pottery are all that it takes to whip them back.

Derleth's name in the Cthulhu Mythos is assured—he named the damned things after all—but this book shows why the Mythos, already showing old age and cracks in their first test-drives by other pilots, needed Lovecraft to glue them together. His style of horror, to what degree of Machen or Blackwood or Dunsany or Poe pastiche that is, is hard to pastiche itself. You have to look at a Universe that seems not to care, to embrace the science that proves it, and then write about how horrible your central philosophy is. I'm not sure if Derleth had the requisite self-hatred to pull this off.

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 47
BY MONTH: November 2010

BLOT: (22 Nov 2010 - 01:17:04 PM)

Blood Creek [Nazi-themed Creature Feature, Horror movie, 2009]

It is interesting, to me, that Header, which I just reviewed a few minutes ago, is set in pretty much the exact same place as this movie. My Header commentary had a bit of a discussion of the mythical "more South than South" setting, even when the setting isn't precisely the South itself (for instance, Children of the Corn taps into the same thing even though it is set in the Midwest). You might want to glance a couple of paragraphs in to see some commentary that slightly impacts this movie, though in this case, it is explained narratively, outside of the early but not opening scenes involving the meth-lab trailer park...

Now, on to this movie proper. Blood Creek, once called Town Creek apparently, is mostly the story of two brothers trying to right a wrong done to one of them. Victor Marshall disappeared during a camping/fishing trip that he and his younger brother Evan went on two years ago. Now Victor is back, and asks Evan to come along with him with guns and ammo to take care of business. Evan is torn between wanting to know what is up, and between making up for two years of being chastised for "losing" his older brother. This is our primary drive: the question of masculinity contrasted in Evan's calmer, more inspective and medically trained manhood against Victor's military background and wild, impetuous actions. It turns out that Victor was the victim of a farmhouse in Maryland, not too far from where he was lost in the woods (kidnapped, I suppose). The family there has a secret, a "He", that Victor is searching for. All Evan sees is a ragtag family living in a rundown farmhouse with strange markings on the gates and on the doors and windows. What the audience knows is that in 1936, a Nazi occult scientist came there, looking for mythical rune-stones left by "our Viking ancestors" (the family is German, and thought the scientist was a historian research German ex-pats). Though the outcome of the family is unknown, the opening cuts away after he tells the young girl, Liese, that her little pains will go a long way to helping her family and we hear, but do not see why, her screams.

We soon learn that the family in the farmhouse is not only the family in 1936, but is the family: only about five years older than they were then. The "He" is no longer human in any real sense of the word, now is a strange thing wearing a long coat, snarling like a beast, and with some sort of black mask wrapped around his face, kept locked up in a root cellar. The farmhouse's many glyphs keep the evil contained in a tiny space, and the whole premise rotates on the albatross wrapped around everyone's neck and who or what is actually evil.

The movie uses the delayed narrative technique to extend suspense: though nearly everything is known by key and otherwise quite vocal characters from the start of the movie proper, they take time to talk about it. Even when, say, one of the characters (mostly Evan) asks. Again and again. It is a frustratingly fake technique that only works if handled properly, and here it is not, only explained by the inexplicable nature of the creature on the farm. Maybe they were trying to give Evan some time to witness some things for himself so that he does not immediately disbelieve, or maybe the movie's makers realized that suspense and confusion could be tools to keep the audience going, which begs one big question: why did they start the movie off where they did? It starts out kind of in-flow (ignoring the monochromatic opening set in the past), and is played off as a second-act to a long horror movie as soon as Victor shows back in less than a quarter hour into the movie-main. The makers ellide the opening act, Victor's capture and torture at the hands of the family, and get down to brass-tacks, only they then feel the need to drag the plot. It tries to inverts the traditional horror movie pattern—something outside finds something inside, horror develops, secrets are indulged, horror unfolds—by starting us in the midst of a second cycle. It could have been a narrative kick, but instead, Joel Schumacher (director, The Lost Boys) and David Kajganich (writer, The Invasion) ignore their own device and let it settle back into a first cycle premise, which gives the whole thing a false sense of tautness. A stretched rubber band that plays an off-chord when suddenly, the night the brothers are there becomes the night to be reckoned with.

As creature-features go, it at least plays by the basic rules: the creature has certain strengths and weaknesses and the plot is a solving of their puzzle. Except one of the characters is the central fount of knowledge, making her a lithe Teutonic ex-pat version of Van Helsing, and casting the whole thing in something like a retelling of Dracula, including blood consumption and undead minions. Breaking no ground, the movie merely pulls the audience along in a dance as simple as it is old, and therefore on the cusp of effectiveness. We know the old stories of ancient evils wearing semi-new faces and fighting in a world that disbelieves them. As horror fans, we enjoy them. On this level, the only real drawback to the whole thing is that the CG gore that in one equine-centric scene devolves into what deleted scenes look like before the final touch-ups, and the aforementioned false tautness in the plot. You can fully enjoy this as the story of a small band of fighters taking on something they have no hope of beating. This is how you should watch it if you want to play along.

It should also be pointed out that had this movie been made in the 1970s, one might have been more forgiving for the double whammy of barely hidden Swastika imagery in the runestones (one is the prime rune symbol itself, the other gets exposed later in plot). It is not so much that a Swastika is used, the Vikings did use them, presumably as funerary symbols linked to Thor; but the pre-Nazi idea of the Swastika as representative of the turning of life, and the holy concept of living strength, is overshadowed by the inherent Nazi corruption now associated with it. It is as though the symbol was retconned to suggest that all those people who used it represent the purity of life really meant black magic by it, so the Nazis were right in corrupting it. And sure, the idea can just as easily be that the Nazis in corrupting the meaning of the symbol also corrupt what the symbols mystical power might be, but without any proper narrative to handle this, the Occam's Razor leaves us with the "real Swastika" firmly tucked into the horror movie device explanation.

The final package wraps itself up partially, and kind of finishes out implying that is only the second act in a five act tragedy, and for that I appreciate it more had it merely ended with self-congratulations and fair-monster-hunting to you, too, rhetoric. I am sure the other three acts are forever lost, and hopefully they will stay that way. It is best to wonder what may be, rather than showing it to us and dashing all hopes...

Basically, a potentially Good, but not Great, movie with so many mis-beats and false notes that it ends up with a final score of Meh. This is one prime candidate for a later remake, solving out some of the questions of rune magic, the interim time between the one brother's capture and his escape, and a better balancing of what the creature might mean. Also, drop the second Swastika reveal. That's just silly.

LABEL(s): Horror movies

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 47
BY MONTH: November 2010

BLOT: (22 Nov 2010 - 11:59:46 AM)

Header [Low Budget Hillbilly Horror Movie 2006, Based on Edward Lee's Novella]

Original Novella by Edward Lee. Adapted by Michael E. Kennedy. Directed by Archibald Flancranstin. Starring Jake Suffian and Elliot V. Kotek. Released on DVD by Synapse Films.

What's a Header? That's the provocative question at the core of this hillybilly horror movie penned originally as novella by Edward "pushing the lines until they break" Lee and scripted into a low-budget, lo-fi horror by Michael E. Kennedy. The chief build up and selling point at the forefront of the movie is finding out a header is, and in a similar way to The Human Centipede, basing a fair amount of your movie's punch around one key gag (pun intended) is dangerous. Once it is exposed, it ceases being a painting in and of itself and becomes a paintbrush, and suddenly you have to use it creatively. Which this movie mostly fails to do.

By the way, if you are honestly curious about what a header is, then go to my autokey tool, plug in What's a Header??? as the keyphrase (it has to be exactly like that, proper case, with three question marks), and then enter the following ciphered text in and click "decipher". I'm not going to put in plaintext for two reasons. A) It is meant to be part of watching the movie. B) I shudder to think of what sort of Google hits plain-texting that might bring me. Note, if you are looking at this through the feed, the XML may not bring all the characters through.

wj`un YC-KT egq)3 ~@ygf Wg`TT X`"gS `MaaU Rh%}W TZS_g \RNOV fLxrh [YZXA }bLHI k[T^o KbcZM Fq|Ge 1gGn@ }YX\a EdZ|@ }D^Z& @}cSQ [>oHn A[nZV "Gg`O WN``S _`>_c Y_NN! BqAmT t_sJF mXh[G vB"`W Jt"s] UK_rd OQB"r YUga} lXBqY OlZEd mPnlI kdEdW XIkaH d[@}` YYR<} NakkU EqB_g NQQp< }^Pmd jdTb} TTKKp 9}VPP F"oWp bTphH F[gQ[ Jb}Zd cSH"s JF"gR _Gkmt NsQNc TgZjd QR`Za zCdGS A^sdE dWAuV OnEBd L>m\R >mPBu ]FsJ= }\JTD aJ^TF -ThE[ FrjVG ?kbzL d"Fm4 XgrZ` KOYcy G^rKK bNqkJ RhV[I m\HdA [rTeY Ra}Sb N&iEd F`hMb wL"`X XO&cB h[JZT M+Irl OcUnN d]dVK S_cO[ }Fd!O ^afQW T=}YX IhSG7 a}W[G ImMdg fQdJ` tu[sJ RIuVg qUdO[ sRY9} UaKiZ b}Q[b }iQOP _reTb XFrch "'iQO S_l`i YIBrd qq{gJ _S^ld _OS=} RctsW G[Xg-

The movie traces two men. First, we have the ATF agent Stewart Cummings, whose girlfriend is quite sick and requires expensive meds. Cummings, bottom of the totem-pole, has no real hope for promotion and resorts to helping drug runners get their gear past the watchful eyes of the law. The second man, Travis Clyde Tuckton is a recently paroled backwoods sort who has come home to his mother's father. With no job, and no real prospects, he has only one real goal in life: to find out what the hell a header is. Once he does, he quickly becomes obsessed with them, equating them with God's good work (an eye for an eye sort of thing).

In a lot of horror and suspense movies involving the South, there is this mythical place that is to Alabama what most New Yorkers think Alabama is to them. Filled with redneck's rednecks, this mythical horror South is derelict in the worst way: teeming with hillybilly sorts that walk to huts with no roads and hang out in sandy clearings on the edge of swamps. Rarely are they protrayed as having anything above rudimentary electricity: devoid of televisions and fridges not out of the 1950s. Sometimes businesses will be portrayed as ramshackle tin things surrounded by willow trees and some old cracked blacktop in the near distance. You see this in movies like Pumpkinhead and Cabin Fever, in Deliverance and in Redneck Zombies. You can forgive it in movies like Backwoods (a lowest of the low-brow horror, shot with a budget that could have been paid off with a single high-interest rate credit card taken out by a man with bad credit), and you can even delight at its continued portrayal in things like Pig (that's maybe more of a "kind of like a hillbilly horror" horror) and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise. Heck, 2001 Maniacs (and it's original, Two Thousand Maniacs!) are almost parodies of this: the victims fail to notice anything is unusual because they assume that the rundown and out of time town is just how the South is...

As Lovecraft wrote, in the beginning of "The Picture in the House", "But the true epicure in the terrible, to whom a new thrill of unutterable ghastliness is the chief end and justification of existence, esteems most of all the ancient, lonely farmhouses of backwoods New England; for there the dark elements of strength, solitude, grotesqueness, and ignorance combine to form the perfection of the hideous." Swap out "New England" with "The DEEP South" and you have the post-60s reaction, I suppose, to the South's Civil Rights era disputes. It became the place where relics lie.

Which is a long-handed way of coming back to the central theme of this movie: there are places you wouldn't believe and, in these places, they do things that other people in those places wouldn't believe. If this as E.C. Comic, story, it would have ended with a hint about what the header is and then someone would have went "choke!" Since this is 90-minute movie, we get told what the header is something like 20 minutes in, and then we have to wait to see where they are going with it. Which is not much of anywhere. Cummings investigates the string of women who are showing with unusual head injuries while doing his day-to-day ATF work. I am not sure what the purview of an ATF worker is, but this movie suggests a mixture of watching moonshine stills and investigating Appalachia intrigue. The ATF station is just one of a couple of buildings that are so Southern that they don't have drives, or nearby roads. They just have a grassy field that people drive around in. These fields look suspiciously like the sort of things you see off in the no-man's-land near Interstates or in parks, so I am guessing that's where our producers when shopping for locations. While doing this detective work, Cummings is also smuggling a decent amount of drugs as a sideline, and generally getting more and more pissed off at the world. Tuckton, for his part, is developing porn-star neck, learning how to bend scripture to his purpose, and see-saws back and forth from Deep South parody to Deep South tragedy.

For all its faults, the movie comes close to succeeding. Looking around, or through, Cummings and the ATF's oddly out-of-place jurisdiction handling, his storyline is meaty enough that it could have worked in a much more serious movie. He is just trying to make someone he loves well, though he is getting very little in return for it. As he bites off bigger and bigger chunks, he is getting into deeper trouble, but still manages to be a good guy. Several times the direction illustrates the haziness of his life by stuttering back and forth between cuts. Perhaps the most telling shot is when he is masturbating by a lonesome lake. It is an efficient release of tension, surrounded by by trees and murky water, where no one is to know, especially not the girlfriend too sick to be sexually active. By the time his drama plays out to its inevitable conclusion, and a twist or two develops, you still like him as a person and you still kind of want him to be able to succeed.* Symbolically, it is a journey tale, but the hero has chosen to try and shortcut to paradise through the inferno, and has not considered the consequences.

Ironically, it is the probably the lack of intensity that ultimately damns this movie. For a movie whose title hints at an act so vile that I put it in ciphered text, above (seriously, would hate to see the search terms that brought people here), most of the gore and punch are shown from the waist up. Sure, we get to Tuckton's bulging neck and get to him hear him talking about how God wanted it this way—and we do get to see blood and boobies and a bit of brain matter—but ultimately half the killings with twice the intensity would have knocked this movie out of its, and the audience's, comfort zone and into an infamously surreality of hyperviolence and classical narrative. Which I take to be the intent: Ozark Noir for the strong stomached. It needed someone like Takashi Miike, who would have delighted in the utter depravity of the act with a glee that makes us lesser mortals long for our mommies. Instead, in the staring contest between us and them, it feels like Kennedy and Flancranstin blinked first. Still, for what it is, it is memorable and I will watch again (lord help me). If for nothing more than the unreal scene of Edward Lee and Jack Ketchum cameoing as cops, and Ketchum's strange delivery**.

All in all, it is a Meh movie with Good parts mixed in with some Blech and coasting along the seas of Fair. The ending is uneven, with one climactic point mis-staged as a bit of letdown, but the actual ending itself tends toward clap-worthy horror.

* It might not surprise anyone to know that several knuckle-dragging reviews of this movie, the sort that wishes more boobies and more gore were involved, describe the best part—Cummings' story—as "boring pap".

** Rivalling the aforementioned Miike's brief scene in Hostel.

LABEL(s): Horror Movies

BY WEEK: 2010, Week 47
BY MONTH: November 2010

Written by Doug Bolden

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