So my multiple personalities as a writer are going to be put to the ultimate test in the next few months. Here's all the stuff I have to accomplish:
1. My thesis is a collection of short stories. I'm doing the John Barth thing without being so damn self-conscious. In other words, the stories will combine to create a "kunstlerroman" about my wild years between 1988 and 1999, covering my years as an unsober asshole, my few years as a sober, blue-collar asshole, right up until I wrote Mr. Id, which became my first motion picture and somehow managed to thrust me even deeper into poverty (but that will all be covered in the next batch of "literary" fiction where I will write about all the assholes I had to deal with in Chicago and Hollywood). The thesis has to be finished by February so that two professors may read it and sign off on it (it's not science or math, you know, anything really useful, so I don't think I have to 'defend' it).
2. I am writing a screenplay for a horror film I hope to shoot as soon as the semester is over (yes, I am going to finish my Master's while prepping a feature film. If that doesn't give me an ulcer, I don't know what will). It's been a while since I've written a script, but they're so easy I sometimes wonder if screenwriting is just writing for the lazy.
3. I would still like to write a novel. I keep starting them and losing interest (speaking of laziness). I just have a difficult time believing a novel isn't anything but a short story with 50 to 60 thousand words of extraneous information that isn't crucial to the plot.
4. And, of course, the one thing I actually enjoy doing, I will continue working on crime and horror short stories that will continue to make me no money. I am in the revision process on one of the stories an old Irish gangster I knew from Chicago told me just before he died of cancer (he told me a lot of stories and I am trying, over the years, to get them on paper as I realize the only reason he told me these things was because he knew I was a writer). And I am in the midst of writing a story about a small town preacher and a couple of the women he sees outside of his marriage.
Oh yeah, I am also trying to craft a film theory paper using Cultural Darwinism to re-examine the slasher genre.
And I still can't figure out why I have headaches every day...
Anyway, Happy New Year to those who read this blog and may this next year be productive.
Well, first I missed the call for stories for the Beat to a Pulp anthology and now it looks like I missed a call for slasher stories for Plots with Guns. What a goddamn pity. I should quit working on my Master's and pay more attention to the Internet.
Anyway, I saw that two writers I dig were featured in the slasher edition of Plots with Guns. After all the research I've been doing on the whole slasher genre, I can assure you the stories by Matthew Funk and Garnett Elliot do the genre more than justice.
Funk works the red herring angle to perfection and Elliot, as usual, puts the reader right in the moment the story takes place in, which is the 80s, a decade I miss more and more as I get older. The little details thrown in, like the goofball playing a video game with a pink Izod shirt on and the collar turned up, what can I say, it's a poet's eye used in the service of fiction.
I recently dealt with a "critic" who derided my entire body of work because in one story I referred to shotgun shells as bullets. The tone of this person's "criticism" was such that one might think I had sanctioned the public torturing of fresh-born puppies. I occasionally am confronted by this type of "criticism"-- the anal pointing out of trivial elements that have nothing to do with the overriding concerns of the story. You know the type, they can't watch a movie without saying, "that couldn't happen!" every two minutes. An old friend of mine who is slowly becoming an unfriend (in real life, not on facebook) has the same problem. She claims to be a writer, though I have never once in thirty-plus years of 'friendship' seen anything she has actually written. She is always "planning something" in her mind but she doesn't have the discipline to sit down and do the work necessary to bring a piece of writing out of the ether and into reality. This poor woman is almost 41 and has never left her mother's home. She has never had a serious job and, at the moment, is entirely unemployed and living off of the labor of her hardworking mother. On Christmas, she engaged me in a raging argument over the plot-points of a porno movie from the 1970s. She has never been able to read my work without making a comment such as ,"you use the word 'the' quite a few times." When I finally called her on this habit last spring she shouted at me, suggesting that I can't take criticism.
Now, I have been "taking criticism" for as long as I have been a writer. I put together writing groups for that specific purpose. The problem with my friend and the psychotic who missed the entire purpose of my story in effort to point out the difference between bullets and shells is that they don't understand the difference between CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM and ANAL CRITICISM. Constructive criticism entails helpful comments on how to strengthen the story through structure. Anal criticism is critcism made by people who obviously aren't writers themselves and think a minor technical gaff is reason to attack the (real) writer. I realize most of the people who read No Moral Center are real writers, so I wonder what your thoughts are on this matter. How do you deal with people who just don't understand the difference between constructive and anal criticism? What can we, as writers, do to help the general public understand how infuriating it is to have someone read an entire story only to miss the point because they are paying attention to the number of times you typed 'there' instead of 'their'?
Oh what a terrible movie New Year's Evil is. This was the worst of all of them. I turned it off with about five minutes to go. There was no suspense. The killer confirms, verbatim, what feminist and gender critics fear most about these movies. A sad, sad way to end my own private movie festival for Christmas break. The verdict: The Prowler was the best of the lot. It had suspense, some nudity, some of Tom Savini's very best work, and a killer with an awesome WWII uniform and gas-mask.
So I watched Black Christmas last night. This movie is credited as being one of the main influences on the entire slasher genre, including Halloween. I can somewhat see that, though there are many crucial elements missing. Most importantly, there were no boobs! What kind of exploitation movie doesn't have nudity? It was directed by Bob Clark, who also directed the modern equivalent of It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story (my younger siblings are sick of A Christmas Story the same way I got sick of It's a Wonderful Life when I was a kid). Black Christmas has one of the first instances I've seen of the "the calls are coming from inside the house!" gag. It's also got some surreal shit going on with the corpse in the attic in the rocking chair. The creepiest thing in the movie is the voice of the killer on the phone. In the end, I'm not even sure it's made clear who the killer actually is.
Tonight, the holiday spirit continues with a notorious groaner, New Year's Evil. I can't wait!
So I made a mistake. The movie I had lined up on the old dvr was Don't Answer the Phone, not He Knows You're Alone. It's easy to see how the titles could be confused in my mind. What a treat Don't Answer the Phone was. Not quite the type of slasher movie I'm watching to research the paper I want to write. However, as far as b-pictures from the 70s and 80s go (this one was released in 1980), this movie is a fucking masterpiece. It's sleazy, it's filled with nudity and it's got an ace synthesizer soundtrack. Even the normally tolerant John Kenneth Muir has nothing but bad things to say about it. Muir sometimes reveals his lack of knowledge regarding the production of b-movies. He calls Don't Answer the Phone boring. I'm not sure how many movies fit in psychopaths, a half-dozen naked women, the sleazy sex trade in Los Angeles (right along Hollywood Boulevard, baby!), drugs and wise-cracking incompetent police all in the same story. That's a talent only b-picture filmmakers can accomplish. This one was released by Crown International Pictures, so you know right at the beginning you're watching a film that was made for the drive-in. That means you're supposed to be fucked up when you watch it (I've been sober for fourteen years now, so I no longer have this privilege) and all the movie's economic flaws magically disappear. The beginning and the end are clearly ripped off from Halloween, but that's about where any comparisons should end. Don't Answer the Phone should be watched simply for the enjoyment of pure, independent sleazy filmmaking. The kind I used to participate in!
Hohoho, merry Christmas. Tonight, a cornerstone of the genre, Black Christmas
Well, Terror Train was a bit of a disappointment. In some ways it is a textbook example of the contention by feminist and gender critics that there is massive gender confusion going on between the killers and "final girls" in slasher movies. In most slasher movies, there isn't a <ahem> shred of evidence to support this. The disturbing final meeting between Jamie Lee Curtis and the killer in Terror Train, however, contains enough gender confusion to make those critics pee their pants with delight (either standing up, or sitting down...) In that last confrontation, it is literally impossible to tell who is male and who is female. The killer looks completely effeminate and Jamie Lee Curtis, well, you know 'her' story. The movie itself is not very good and that's a shame because it puts a nice twist on the slasher formula by allowing the killer to wear different costumes throughout the movie which should have made it more difficult to recognize him (or should it be hir?) The filmmakers fail to capitalize on this enough and instead throw out a red herring that is so obviously a red herring it renders the final thirty minutes of the movie boring. Of note, however, is the fact that John Alcott was the director of photography on Terror Train. Alcott was Stanley Kubrick's dp from A Clockwork Orange to The Shining (which really means he was a glorified gaffer as Kubrick was notorious for running his own camera). What a difference a director makes, however, as Alcott apparently had no say in how to film Terror Train which was tailor made, being set on a train with narrow hallways, for a Kubrickian glide through a symmetric landscape. Of course, in 1980, Kubrick was putting the finishing touches on a little movie called The Shining. I'm sure that's why the producers of Terror Train only got Alcott and not his usual director...
Tonight, another movie that tends to provide ammunition for feminists-- He Knows You're Alone
So I watched My Bloody Valentine (1981) last night. Very interesting slasher film. Rather than unleashing a killer on suburban kids, this film goes after a blue-collar town whose inhabitants can't figure out if they're Irish or Canadian. There aren't nearly enough women in the film and there is not one shot of bare breasts, which I think is essential to any slasher movie. The reveal at the end of the movie is rather lame, copying F13's last-minute reveal, which sucked in that movie as well. However, the film was enjoyable regardless for a few reasons. First of all, it had the necessary early 1980s synthesizer soundtrack. Contrary to a lot of the early slasher films, it was not shot with soft-key lighting (the same lighting one finds, much to the delight of psychoanalytic critics, in 1970s and early 80s porno movies), which I believe contributes to the film's reputation as being, like The Prowler, "meaner" than most of the slashers of its time (I'm not sure when a movie about young people being butchered by a madman becomes any meaner than its basic premise already suggests...) The battle at the end is exciting enough and the filmmakers switched up the formula just a bit and allowed for a Final Girl and her boyfriend to survive. The Final Girl in My Bloody Valentine shoots the feminist critics all to hell, having a decidedly feminine name, being decidedly feminine, and demonstrating a strength that only a lunatic (!) would not consider a positive depiction of a woman understanding how to think and act in a crisis situation. Last but not least, the killer in My Bloody Valentine has a most badass costume, which I think is another large part of the film's continued appeal. I think, as far as wardrobe goes, I like the killer in this film and The Prowler the best. These look like guys you want to stay far the hell away from at any cost. It looks like I've found my costume for next Halloween...
I wasn't tired after watching My Bloody Valentine, so I decided to catch a slasher from the era that has generally received bad reviews from enthusiasts of the genre-- Graduation Day. This one does have the soft-key lighting and a bizarre prophesy of things to come with respect to its pre-MTV MTV editing. It was a pretty awful movie. When righteous morality-thumpers and Polite Police want to come down on the genre, this is a perfect exhibit of how terrible a slasher could be. Even the special effects stank.
Tonight, another slasher film produced in Canada, Terror Train--
This one was released in 1980, the same year as Prom Night and Carpenter's follow-up to Halloween, The Fog; all of these films featured everyone's favorite suspected hermaphrodite, Jamie Lee Curtis (absolutely not one shred of truth to the rumor, by the way) which is how she quickly became known as the "Scream Queen" (I don't have the research to back it up, but I believe the phrase was coined specifically for her). One thing the presence of all these other slasher films in 1980 proves is that the producers of Friday the 13th were not necessarily the first producers attempting to cash in on the success of Halloween.
I had to get the bad vibes of The Burning out of my system, so I watched a pair of slasher/stalker pictures today (I'm on vacation, in case anybody wonders how the hell I suddenly have so much free time). I sort of cheated as I made a deal with myself that I would watch one picture a night after getting my writing done. Oh well. I'm on vacation, I'm gonna take some liberties.
First, I checked out The House on Sorority Row, which is from 1982 but already looks much slicker than the core group of slashers from 1980 and 81. It has some decent qualities to it, most importantly a good sense of humor. The clown gag at the end of the movie was great, even if I could see it coming from a mile away. And what of that music box theme played throughout the film, was that a tribute to For a Few Dollars More? John Carpenter always said Halloween is just a western in disguise. Does that make all slashers, by extension, westerns in disguise?
After reading a review over at Let's Kill Everybody I decided to finally take a look at The Toolbox Murders, a movie that pre-dates the slasher craze. Very, very strange movie. I once had lunch with one of the writers of the movie and she was a nice old lady. I don't know where the hell she got the idea to write this picture. It's not quite a slasher film as it doesn't have the required ingredients or the plot structure inherent to the genre. It's weird though. Very, very weird.
So my Seven Nights of Slashers took a dip last night with the overrated Harvey Weinstein slasher The Burning. It was basically Meatballs meets Friday the 13th. It actually got the Meatballs part correct-- The character development at the camp was exceptional compared to most slashers (aided greatly by a fantastic performance by a young Jason Alexander). The slasher part, however, was rather boring and this film made a gross error in its overall construction by having the "Final Girl" be two guys! Clearly, the Weinstein's were intent on "deconstructing" the slasher genre before it could reach its peak. Given that, I must contradict previous contentions that the genre began to die with Silent Night, Deadly Night and April Fool's Day. I think the moment someone tries to get clever and "deconstruct" a genre, the genre is on its way out. That's scary. It basically means that the true, pure slasher film only gets two years, 1980 and 1981, to flap its bloody, subversive wings (and yes, by deconstructing a subversive genre, what the Weinstein Bros. did was RESTORE the dominant culture, essentially ripping the transgressive guts right out of the genre!)
Hopefully my choice for tonight will be more bloody and less apologetic to the status quo. It's the original My Bloody Valentine and in the reading I am doing, it brings class politics into the equation with respect to its blue-collar killer.
So I'm trying to put together an article detailing how subversive the slasher pictures of the early 1980s were and I'm spending my Christmas break watching a slasher film each night before I go to sleep.
Last night I watched The Prowler, which is part of a group of films that are known, primarily, for Tom Savini's hardcore special effects. And hardcore it was... Long, meandering shots of people getting slashed and diced. The pitch-fork in the beginning was particularly interesting as the killer announced himself as a very thorough craftsman... A lot of suspense and a great soundtrack mixing violins and that unmistakable early 1980s synthesizer.
Tonight I will watch another classic of the genre, The Burning, notable for its violence as well as appearances by a young Jason Alexander and Holly Hunter.
"The Killer Inside Me," Michael Winterbottom's movie based on Jim Thompson's book, pretty much got railroaded by the Polite Police because of its depiction of violence against women. Most of the violence isn't all that violent, just some nice spanking on some nice, bare female asses. The main character beats two women, one almost to death, and since it is depicted realistically, the Polite Police did everything they could to sink this picture before it had a fair chance in the theaters. As a result, I had to wait six months to see it on video. Unfortunately, I'm not convinced it was worth the wait.
As far as the issue of the depiction of violence against women in motion pictures is concerned, I'll just say this: It's ok to depict violence against men as nobody complains when Arnold stomps his way through a movie killing twenty men at once with a machine gun. Nobody makes so much as a whimper of protest. If a woman is slapped on film, the writer, director, and any other male associated with the movie is called a "misogynist" and the movie is banned. If violence is bad, shouldn't we be shocked any time it is depicted, regardless of whether the victim of the violence is male or female? It's a case of social and moral hypocrisy, something the Polite Police are dangerously talented at; Regardless, the director of "The Killer Inside Me" is merely adapting events depicted in the book and, frankly, I'd rather he did it in a manner that demonstrated how disgusting violence actually is than gloss over it in some cutesy Hollywood manner.
All that aside, I am beginning to wonder if Jim Thompson is the HP Lovecraft of crime fiction-- i.e., He can't be adapted to film without losing the substance of what makes his fiction so wonderful. Thompson's fiction deals quite a bit with the way people think. It's hard to put that on screen and I don't believe "The Killer Inside Me" succeeded in that regard. There is a French production of "Pop. 1280" that takes place in Africa. By completely displacing the story from its American roots, I think those filmmakers managed to do what Kubrick often did with novels, which is take the skeleton of the story and apply new flesh to it to make it an entirely new experience. The only thing "The Killer Inside Me" successfully translates is the feeling of dread the main character experiences as he realizes everyone around him knows he's guilty and is simply waiting for the right moment to move in and arrest him.
None of Thompson's nihilism makes it into the movie intact. Most horrendous, the filmmakers have tacked on the standard Hollywood-issue 'blame the father' motif that I am certain was not in the novel (I haven't read it in a few years, so I could possibly be mistaken, though I doubt it). The book, as I recall, did not delve into a lot of Freudian bullshit about the killer's childhood. That's a modern Hollywood invention and it sucks and it makes any movie its in suck.
I really can't recommend this movie. I was bored for a lot of it and never felt that thrill one feels when reading a Jim Thompson novel, knowing you are in the mind of one of the most honest American writers ever.
Just looking at an alphabetical list of the movies of 1981. Difficult to believe ALL these awesome movies were released in the same year:
An American Werewolf in London
Clash of the Titans
Dead & Buried
Decline of the Western Civilization
Escape from New York
The Final Conflict (Omen III)
Friday the 13th part II (my favorite of the series)
Halloween II (the only decent sequel of the lot)
Happy Birthday to Me
He Knows You're Alone
History of the World pt. 1
Mad Max 2 (The Road Warrior)
Nice Dreams (Cheech and Chong)
The Postman Always Rings Twice
Prince of the City
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Superman II (by far the best of the series)
Tarzan, the Ape Man (ok, shitty movie, but Bo Derek, naked, frequently)
Tattoo (ok, shitty movie also, but Maude Adams, naked, frequently)
1982 was pretty good as well. Heaven's Gate also came out in 1981 and I think that movie slammed the door on a lot of autonomy for directors which is why, by 1984, the amount of cool b-movies with bigger budgets stopped getting made. 1981 seems to also have been the high-water mark for the original group of slasher pictures. I remember the summer of 81 and 82 being epic in terms of the movies. The last ingredient, I think, was the combination of studios trying to profit off of the formulas created by Lucas, Spielberg and, in horror, John Carpenter, and allowing the directors enough freedom to make movies that, by today's standards, are pretty damn subversive.
Or maybe I was nine, ten, eleven, and twelves years old during this time and just a whole lot easier to impress...
Nine years ago someone, I won't say here because the goofy sonofabitch will deny it and sue me on top of it, wrote a bogus biography of me at the Internet Movie Database (imdb.com). I tried for years and years and years to have the damn thing removed. IMDB, for those who don't know, is a very secretive company that, unfortunately for their secretive mission, came under the rule of Amazon a few years ago. As a result, I took my complaints to Amazon. Their customer service representatives had no clue as to how to get in touch with the people at IMDB. Very strange, considering Amazon owned the damn company. It was like trying to negotiate with the National Security Alliance by going through the CIA. I threatened legal action and actually got my lawyer prepared to take said action. The main problem, I argued, was that there was personal information listed that could contribute to identity theft (anybody who wants to steal my identity, oh by the way, don't forget to take the debt with you!)
Finally, I reached that point where I was ready to throw large objects through larger windows. I told the operator at Amazon to put me in touch with the CEO of Amazon. She gave me his email address and the problem was solved within two weeks. I have had issues with Amazon.com before, but their customer service department has ALWAYS resolved the problem swiftly and to my satisfaction. I cannot stress how pleased I am with the people at Amazon. When a business is run properly, meaning, the customer is treated with respect, I believe they should be praised for it. Mostly because most businesses today take our money for granted. We should always reward good companies and punish bad companies with our power, which is our money (however little we may have!)
The biography at IMDB now is not entirely true. I think the made up parts are obvious. I'm not interested in people knowing too much personal information about me and the bio serves that purpose just fine. My business with IMDB is finished and so is my war. Hard to believe it took nine years to get something that belonged to me taken off of the Internet.
Matthew C. Funk's story Times Past is featured in this month's All Due Respect. Anybody who reads crime fiction online should be familiar with Mr. Funk's work. He recently got a great write up at Chris Rhatigan's site. "Times Past" will entertain you. Trust me.
The first six months of All Due Respect's existence have been pretty darn amazing. Here are a few authors you can look forward to reading in the coming year: Nigel Bird, Scotch Rutherford, and Tony Deans.
(Still waiting for some more women to step up and demand respect!)
Alec Cizak is a writer and filmmaker. His work has appeared in several journals and anthologies. His most recent novel, Breaking Glass, is available from ABC Group Documentation. He is the editor of the fiction journal, Pulp Modern.
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