Book Review: Quoth the Raven, edited by Lyn Worthen

Book Review: Quoth the Raven edited by Lyn Worthen

When I was around ten years old, I came across the story The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allen Poe.  That was my introduction to his work, and I loved it.  Over the years, I read more of his stories and eventually his poetry and enjoyed it all.  He’s in my top ten list of favorite authors, and more than one of his stories would be in my list of favorite short fiction.  When I was offered the chance to read and review Quoth the Raven, an anthology of retellings of Poe’s stories by contemporary authors, I responded with a resounding yes.

Quoth the Raven by [Fallon, Amber, Azariah-Kribbs, A.A, Worthen, Lyn, Gorman, Amelia, Bollinger, Aryan, Ellis, Brian, Weaver, Donea, Abela, Chris, Ahern, Edward, Rich, Emerian, Tiffany Michelle Brown, Vicki Weisfeld, Gregory J. Wolos, Sidney Williams, R.C. Scandalis, Karen Robiscoe, Tonia Kalouria, John Kiste , Melanie Cossey, Matthew M. Montelione, Kenneth C. Goldman, Steven R. Southard, Kara Race-Moore, Stephanie L. Harper, Susan McCauley, Sonora Taylor, Lauryn Christopher, Sarah Murtagh, Lawrence Berry, Frank Coffman]This anthology features prose and poetry, mostly modern day reworkings of his stories, but some stand out as original ideas written following his style.  “The Cellphone,” by R.C. Scandalis, for example.  That one is a poem patterned after Poe’s The Raven.  While the new poem is a humorous exploration of someone who has become a slave to his smart phone, it follows the rhythm, meter, and rhyming pattern of The Raven.  It was inventive and it often made me laugh.

Other works by Poe were heavily mined for this anthology.  The Cask of Amontillado, which is my favorite of his stories, is given a contemporary voice in four different tales.  My favorite of the retellings of Cask is “The Montresor Method,” by Hugh J. O’Donnell.  It was a clever take on the classic tale of revenge that uses a physical copy of Poe’s story as a plot device.  O’Donnell did a good job of capturing the feel and essence of Edgar Allen’s voice and I enjoyed reading his story.

My favorite poem by Poe is The Bells, and I was pleased to see that one of the selections used that as a basis for a new work.  “The Tones,” by Amber Fallon follows the pattern of The Bells in an exploration of alarms, ringtones, sirens, and other similar sounds heard frequently in today’s world.  I liked it almost as much as the original it’s patterned after.

Several other of Poe’s more famous works are retold, including The Masque of the Red Death, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat, and The Purloined Letter; some appearing more than once.  Aside from the works I mentioned already, one that stood out for me is “My Annabel” by Emerian Rich.  “My Annabel” is a retelling in prose form of the poem Annabel Lee.  I really liked it.  Like O’Donnell, Rich did a great job of capturing the feel of Poe’s voice and style, and it read like something he might write today, were he still alive and (spoiler) a fan of George Romero’s work.

I enjoyed reading Quoth the Raven.  There were definitely selections that stood out more than others, but for me, there wasn’t a single dud in the book.  I would recommend the anthology to anyone who enjoys dark-themed stories.  Those who love the work of Edgar Allen Poe will enjoy seeing how the authors translate his tales into contemporary society.  However, one doesn’t need to be a fan of Poe to like these stories and poems.  Quoth the Raven is a fine collection that any fan of horror fiction should enjoy.  It’s available on Amazon both in paperback and for the Kindle.  Give it a read; you won’t be disappointed.

Disclaimer:  I was provided an electronic copy of the book so that I could read and review it.  I received no money for the review, and the opinions stated therein are my own.

Kbatz: Silent Film Scares!

Frightening Flix

 

Silent Film Scares!

By Kristin Battestella

 

Here are but a few early film frights to catch your tongue!

 

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari – Sleepwalking, hypnosis, and a demented carnival atmosphere are just the beginning for this influential 1920 paragon. From the German intertitles complete with a madcap, unreliable narrator font to the eerie, off key merry go round score, the distorted perceptions and exaggerated visuals force the viewer to pay attention. Green patinas, teal evening scenes, golden up close shots, and opening and closing irises layer on the dream like retelling alongside askew, Expressionist angles and a stage like design – a play within a play to which we the audience are willingly privy. Contrasting triangles, shadows, lighting, and more surreal architecture parallel the lacking reality, for there is no external frame of reference and forced perspectives belie a fun house whimsy. The actors, makeup, and abstract period styles are fittingly macabre, and the stilted contortionist movements evoke a poetic but unsettling ballet where a misused seemingly innocent, forgotten pawn needlessly dies once his job no longer computes. Though very indicative of its early interwar time, this remains immediately progressive – man is misled, controlled, even compliant in his misdeeds but not willing to be responsible for his actions when it is easier to be led astray and defer your killing hand to the orchestrating puppeteer. Do we not let popcorn entertainment and social media dictate our needs because someone somewhere told us so? Are we living in a fantasy if we think otherwise? Maybe so. The mass sheep consequences are indeed frightening, and some may find it tough to view this picture objectively knowing the catastrophic calamities to come. The appropriately named Cesare, deadly predictions, a perceived loved triangle, escalating murders, and crazy case connections twist and turn while satirical police sit on high up stools like toy soldiers waiting to be told what to do – like us in our 9 to 5 cubicles. Ignorance is bliss, and that is mighty scary. This is must see genre at its finest thanks to heaps of real world fears and social commentary for horror fans and classroom studies.

 

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. HydeThis 1920 John Barrymore silent classic still looks good, with fine style and design and eerie organ music to match. There’s a lovely level of atmosphere for a spooky event- project this baby on some creepy cloth and you’re set! Granted, it’s a little slow to start and long for a silent film at 80 minutes. The presentation itself is almost Victorian in establishing the parlor goodness before its hint of pre-code sauce- the dance and proposition of Nita Naldi (The Ten Commandments). The posturing and makeup for Hyde may seem hokey, there isn’t that much of a visual difference compared to today’s high tech effects transformations. Nonetheless, Barrymore (Don Juan) sells the depravity without over exaggerating as the era often dictates, and the result is quite timeless.  There aren’t many title cards, either.  As the film progresses, the good and evil torment steadily increases thanks to the freaky pictures and creepy performance. A must see. 

 

Fall of the House of UsherThis very early 1928 silent adaptation of Poe’s macabre tale is only 13 minutes. There are no inter cards to read, nor what we would call dialogue. The fashions are decidedly Roaring instead of Victorian, too.  The visuals are so out there-even nonsensical-that it’s almost tough to see Edgar in any of it.  Nonetheless, this moody piece is perfectly disturbed with great, haunting organ music and eerie, distorted photography.  It’s trippy, unexpected, and a little scary. This is another one of those old films that makes for a great demented projection during a spooky party or ghoulish gallery presentation. Though not for everyone, anyone who is a fan of early film experimentation or audiences who just like weird shows should definitely check this out.

 

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Faust – This 1926 F. W. Murnau biggie waxes on all the good and evil one can muster thanks to its Old World appeal, supernatural surreal, and timeless story. Familiar strings and sweeping orchestration ground the Expressionist horror framework with frenetic ills or melodic tender as needed while stunning images of angels both light and dark are fittingly disproportionate with oversized wings. So maybe the mounted skeletons may seem hokey, but the smoke and mirrors, creepy eyes, and evil horns make for superb overlays and superimposed shadows. Why do we toy with spectacular effects when each frame here is like a seamless painting – unlike contemporary, noticeably shoddy CGI. Ghoulish makeup, severe looks done with very little, dark hoods, rays of light, and religious iconography loom large, telling the tale with symbolic light and dark objects dueling for our attention – just like the delicate titular ballet. The battle for one man’s soul is set amid our earthly plague fears, and despite the torment and somewhat odd, dragging domestic humor, the acting is not over the top but subdued for the weighty subject. This macabre is closer to the past than the present, setting off the repentance questions and plague as divine retribution debate. His Old Testament gives no answer, and evil enters in on Faust’s doubts, trading decadence with quills to sign in blood, hourglass measures, alchemy, superimposed flames, and mystical books to match the thee and thou spells. Our deceiving little old man becomes more traditionally devilish looking with each lavish temptation, duplicitous with his immediate tricks of pleasure and unfulfilling youthful elixirs that cannot be sustained. Could you do good with such power? Flight and winds show not how high one goes but how far we will fall, and despite a somewhat overlong hour and forty minute full length edition, the grim sense of dread here snowballs as the looming evil drapes the bedchamber within his robes. Will innocence and love triumph and restore the divine? This stunning attention to detail not only makes me want to tackle Goethe again, but shows what can be done when time is taken to ensure a picture lasts 90 years rather than be a consumed and quickly forgotten 90 minutes. The multiple versions and assorted video reissues will bother completists, but we’re lucky to have these copies at all and horror fans and film students must see this still influential morality play.

 

The Hands of Orlac – Art and music meet the grotesque for this 1924 tale of pleas, surgeries, and will power. Precious few newspaper clippings and streamlined, made to look old intertitles accent the ominous locomotives, vintage vehicles, smoke stacks, and well done but no less hectic disaster filmmaking before the macabre executions and madcap medicine. Doctors in white coats with terrible news, a saintly woman in white, bleak black trees against the clouded white sky – rather than our beloved silver screen, the picture here is truly a black and white negative with bright, symbolic domestic scenes and nighttime outdoor filming. Overwhelming buildings loom tall, and the sharp, gothic arches of a sinister father’s house reflect his uncaring. Eerie superimposed faces, phantom feelings, and impatience to remove the bandages build toward the eponymous hysterics, but the simple agony of handwriting changes and crooked hands so skilled with a killer blade but unable to master the piano wonderfully increase the torment and self doubt. Is it the mind doing these fatal repeats or the appendages themselves taking over? The full near two hour restored version feels somewhat overlong, with melodramatic scenes and unnecessary transitions interfering with the anguish. At times, contrived fingerprint exposition and solving the crime clichés pull the rug out from under the horrific hands possibilities, but fortunately, the blackmail, murder investigation, and bittersweet love anchors the monstrous appendage swapping. Where today we would have all kinds of bent, hairy, or special effects to hit the viewer over the head with how evil these hands should be, it’s amazing how these wicked hands psyching out our pianist don’t look evil per se but actually fairly normal. With our contemporary pick and choose genetics and scientific advancements, the concept of these influential limbs out for themselves is perhaps more disturbing. Could you loose your art and livelihood when calamity takes your hands or would you use extreme science to restore your limbs, accepting the inadvertent trade of music for something more barbarous? This is an excellent must see both for the ghastly what ifs and the inner turmoil at work.

 

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The UnknownLon Chaney (The Phantom of the Opera) and Joan Crawford (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?) star in this short but memorable 1927 silent from writer and director Tod Browning.  Similar to Browning’s Freaks in many ways, the grotesque yet tender and sympathetic love triangle here is fast paced and well edited with intense twists and a great, revitalized score.  Sure, it may be a Leap of Faith in taking Chaney as armless and the carnival set-ups are hokey- but trust me.  There’s no over the top acting, only perfect expressions and emotions all around. Crawford looks dynamite, too, with great eyes and readable lips that don’t need inter titles. It’s not all Chaney’s footwork and bravo to his double Paul Desmuke; their combination is strangely delightful to watch. It’s probably a tough concept for some contemporary, effects-obsessed audiences to comprehend, but hearing or reading words aren’t required for the viewer to receive the trauma here.  Yes, some of the essential plot points are fairly obvious today. However, the performances keep it splendid nonetheless. This hour is by necessity of the silent style yet also very modern in its own way. It’s definitely a must see for classic fans, lovers of the cast, and film makers or would be actors- who should definitely take a lesson on the big reveal here!

 

Wolf Blood – This 1925 silent hour plus is the earliest remaining onscreen lycanthrope picture, complete with Canadian flavor, old fashioned logging, spooky forestry, railroads, and jealous love triangles to match the desperate titular transfusion and its would be consequences. A befitting green hue graces the outdoor scenes while standard black and white reflects the bleak interiors and golden tints accentuate the high society parties. The focus is blurry at times, the print understandably jumps, and the music is surprisingly loud. However, the rounded iris close ups add a dreamlike quality, and the vintage jazz tunes and period fashions are a real treat. If you’re looking for a time capsule logging documentary, this is it! Flirtations, camp injuries, company rivalries, drunken dangers, and medical debates give the first half of the picture a purely dramatic pace, but the wolfy fears, mob mentality, and deadly possibilities build in the latter half. Fantastic medicine, superstitious leaps, dreams of becoming the wolf – this isn’t a werewolf film as we know it but the key pieces are here. How fast people turn on you once you have wolf’s blood! The wolf footage is also quite nice, with what looks like real mixed wolf or husky dogs. No, there is no werewolf transformation and it’s all a bit of a fake out in that regard, but the community fears and early man versus beast melodrama is still fun to see.

Kbatz: Price and Poe Double Feature!

The Masque of The Red Death and The Premature Burial Make for a Spooky, Smart Double Feature

By Kristin Battestella

In my never-ending search for quality horror, I often turn to the classics. I was pleased to find that two of my favorites The Masque of Red Death and The Premature Burial were available on one DVD. Corman, Poe, Price- Horror Heaven!

Ruthless and satanic Prince Prospero (Price) takes crops from the local villages and burns those carrying the dreaded Red Death plague. He abducts the lovely, devout peasant girl Francesca (Jane Asher) and takes her back to his castle. Other nobles are also gathering at the castle under Prospero’s offer to wait out the Red Death with evenings of pleasure, masquerades, and debauchery. Part of his entertainment includes the diminutive Hop Toad (Skip Martin, Circus of Fear) and his little ballerina Esmeralda (Verina Greenlaw, The Six Wives of Henry VIII), but Prospero’s satanic mistress Juliana (Hazel Court) has no time for dances or Francesca-as she is preparing to become a bride of Satan. These demonic delights are all going to Prospero’s plans-until the Red Death incarnate crashes his decadent party.

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As you can tell, I’ve seen my share of spooky flicks and Price pictures. Perhaps not as well known today, The Masque of The Red Death is my favorite of the Poe series from director Roger Corman. This 1964 treat has all the big budget looks one could ask for. It’s gothic, dark, demonic-yet the candle light, colors, and castle sets are a real treat. The costumes look perfectly medieval-the men as well as the ladies. I could say The Masque of The Red Death is a costumed, epic spectacle if not for the macabre subject matter.

Charles Beaumont (The Twilight Zone) and R. Wright Campbell (Man of a Thousand Faces) skillfully weave Poe’s tale of disease, death, and comeuppance with a touch from his lesser know ‘Hop-Frog’ tale and create a charming and yet dreadfully spooky movie. Poe is well known for his obsessions with death and burial, but the core of The Masque of The Red Death is unique. These prideful and gluttonous subjects fear death, sure-but that doesn’t stop their cruel and deceitful, devilish ways. Religion is only touched upon briefly, but the iconic notion of Death itself entering among the naughty and taking its tally strikes the audience on multiple levels. Do we really see Death when we are so close to it? Do we all walk such a finite yet intimate line with disease and punishment? Visually desensitizing, slash and sex and gore, modern horror can’t compare with Corman’s visual interpretations of Poe.

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I know Vincent Price has a reputation for being over the top-as in The Pit and the Pendulum for example; but he’s relatively suave and subdued here. We’ve seen him in many periods and styles, but the outlandish hats, plumes, and color still look good on Price. He doesn’t seem out of place amid demonic castles and masked parties. We believe his Prospero is kinky, vicious, and deadly-but we’re awed when Death comes along and steals the show. Perhaps Price has more famous roles; but for my money, he is his best here. Likewise, Vincent’s vixens look devilishly good. Horror queen Hazel Court (The Curse of Frankenstein) shows her bosom and her satanic ways with a bizarre mix of charm and grace. We shouldn’t like the dark lady doing nasty rituals and marrying the devil, but Court’s beauty and ethereal style are delightful. Not to be outdone, angelic ex-Paul McCartney flame Jane Asher (Alfie, Crossroads) rivals Court with her white gowns and youthful devotion. We want her to keep her innocent naiveté, but we also don’t expect her righteousness to win out.

The Masque of The Red Death is a rarity in horror pictures because it achieves serious social commentary about the corrupt aristocracy, death, and how the evil get their due- all this along with plenty of scares and onscreen mayhem. Some might be offend by the devilish imagery, but horror fans and classic enthusiasts need to love this macabre, yet idealistic picture. Of course, 1962’s The Premature Burial is by no means merely the back end of a double bill. Technicalities at American International Pictures unfortunately leave us without our regular Poe man Vincent Price, and I think The Premature Burial is a little unloved because of this. However, Charles Beaumont and Ray Russell (The Man with the X-Ray Eyes) again craft an intellectual analysis from Poe’s tale of death and fear.

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Guy Carrell (Ray Milland) fears his family history of catalepsy and builds a complex and technological tomb to prevent himself from being buried alive. His wife Emily (Hazel Court) and sister Kate (Heather Angel, Suspicion) disagree in how to support Guy’s fears, yet stop his building obsessions. Guy turns away from his involved tomb so Emily won’t leave him, but death and family history soon catch up to him.

More than a fine, if surprising, substitute, Oscar winner Ray Milland (The Lost Weekend, Markham, It Happens Every Spring) is delightful as the intelligent Victorian gentleman who becomes obsessed with being buried alive. His extreme, exhaustive precautions are understandable, logical, and well thought out; but somehow, we still know this is all askew, maniacal, and preposterous. Milland is quieter than Price, never quite boiling over as we expect him to. In away, his buttoned performance is bound, trapped inside the coffin Guy so desperately fears.

 

Once again, Hazel Court is lovely and charming as Guy’s ambiguous wife Emily. We believe she cares for Guy’s state of mind-and yet she’s too lovely and youthful to put up with his deadly ideas, isn’t she? The Premature Burial gives us more exceptional dresses-but this time we are bespectacled with hefty hoop skirts and Victorian delicacies. Though black and white, Corman gives us a fine production of mood and atmosphere. We don’t often see such proper costumes in a low-end horror picture, but all the creepy graveyards, fog, smoke, and mirrors make their presence known, too.

The Premature Burial is again a picture that might not be fore everyone. It’s slow, deliberate examination of death might be frustrating and too close to home for some. Even though we’re beyond the days of rampant plagues erroneously burying people alive and Victorian occultists trying to cheat death, this is still an understandable, real fear not so far removed from society’s psyche. Both The Masque of the Red Death and The Premature Burial serve up a fine cast, intelligent scripting, period piece atmospheres, and plenty of spooks. These flicks have plenty of old time scares, but nothing majorly offensive- unlike today’s sex and slash flicks.

 

The dual DVD of The Masque of the Red Death and The Premature Burial is affordable enough, but again a little old and a pain to flip. Thankfully, we’re treated to a few nice conversations with Roger Corman chatting about this pair of Poe pictures. Horror enthusiasts and classic film fans should adore these two complex, scary tales each and every year.

An interview with Dario Ciriello

Our featured author for episode 122 of the horror addicts podcast is Dario Ciriello. Dario recently answered a few questions for us about his work:

When did you start writing?

18710085 When I was eight or so! I actually have my first short story, a one-page effort called “The Anti”, written on my Dad’s typewriter (he was a journalist, so I had a model right there).  It’s a fraught little piece, full of foreboding and strange events. Though the editor in me sees a few issues, I was clearly already channeling Poe and Conrad. But I only really became semi-serious about my writing in the early oughts and published my first book, Aegean Dream, in 2011.

What do you like to write about?

 Ordinary people faced with strange and challenging situations. I started off writing straight-up Science Fiction short stories, which I’ve always loved; but in recent years I’ve moved towards suspense novels. Still, I can’t do “straight” reality: my work is always going to have an element of the fantastic or supernatural, because that’s really how I see life—the known is always shadowed and underpinned by strangeness and the unknown.

Who are some of your influences?

I’ve always been a style and language junkie, so really terrific prose artists who also know how to keep a reader turning pages—authors like John LeCarre, Fritz Leiber, Roger Zelazny, PD James, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allen Poe, Joseph Conrad, Robert Graves—have always been favourites; and though his excesses are many, Lovecraft does hold a special place in my heart. I’m also a terrific fan of Stephen King, whom I consider one of the all-round best authors of our time in every way. He really gets character, and is incredibly good at psychological depth and getting under the reader’s skin. There aren’t many authors who can hold my attention for 60 pages, never mind 600 or more.

Do you prefer writing fiction or non-fiction? 7085919

 Nonfiction is in many ways easier for me, as no invention is really required. My first book, Aegean Dream, a nonfiction travel memoir, is my longest work, yet it was the fastest to write—the first draft reeled itself off in just three months or so. But there’s a whole added dimension of satisfaction and achievement to crafting a long work of fiction in which you spin characters and sometimes entire worlds from whole cloth.

Can you tell us a little about Panverse publishing? 

 I founded Panverse in 2009 to edit and publish a series of original Science Fiction novella anthologies—novellas are my favourite story length for SF, and yet the one there are fewest markets for. In 2011, after publishing three annual anthologies (Panverse One, Two, and Three), I published my own first book, Aegean Dream, and it did very well. I expanded the company and in 2013-2014 began to publish novels by other authors, as well as my own thriller/suspense novel, Sutherland’s Rules. But the workload was horrifying and my own writing was suffering. So at the end of 2014 I returned the rights to our authors, and kept Panverse as an indie publisher/imprint solely for my own work.

What do you find fascinating about the horror genre?

8492651 The exploration of the subconscious and the more shadowed, ancient parts of our psyche. I like psychological rather than graphic, in-your-face horror full of gore and shock images. Getting back to King’s work, I find the novels Gerald’s Game and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon infinitely more scary (and interesting) than, say, Carrie, Cell, or Salem’s Lot. I do find the idea of possession—and there’s a strong element of that in my forthcoming novel, Black Easter—genuinely terrifying. We’re an ancient race, and parts of our wiring go back to pre-rational days. We’re hardcoded for correspondences and symbolism, for instance, at a level we can’t easily access consciously…but we sense it. At some level we know that the everyday world is just a construct, an agreed model, a fiction of sorts, and that there’s an awful lot of what’s out there that goes unseen, and for very good reasons. The best horror fiction and film taps into those pre- and subconscious levels where we’re aware of the hidden and occult realms, and it scares the shit out of us. And I do believe that there is such a thing as real, true evil in the world.

What will you be reading for episode 122 of the podcast?

 I’ll be reading an excerpt from my new novel, Black Easter, which releases on December 5. What’s it about? Well, there’s black magic, human sacrifice, a severely traumatized Nazi colonel, love, sex, possession, an idyllic island in the sun-drenched head shot2014Aegean, and a whole new theory of Hell.  It’s Mamma Mia meets The Exorcist, with a side of Inglorious Basterds.

Where can you we find you online?

 Thanks for asking, and I do love to hear from readers. I’m in quite a few places, including:

My author blog:    www.dariospeaks.wordpress.com

My indie press:      www.panversepublishing.com

Facebook:              http://facebook.com/dario.ciriello

Twitter:                 @Dario_Ciriello

Amazon page:       http://viewauthor.at/DarioCiriello (no “www”)

You also can pre-order some of my books at:

www.panversepublishing.com/black-easter

And finally, I write a monthly Thursday guest post for the Indie Author Series over at Janice Hardy’s excellent Fiction University (blog.janicehardy.com)

 

Press Release: The Raven retold by Venus De Vilo

unnamedTHE ANGELS MAY HAVE NAMED HER LENORE – BUT LOVE CALLS HER… REVENGE.
The “Lost Lenore” is lost NO MORE! NOT FOR THE FAINT HEARTED. ADULT CONTENT. BLOOD, BETRAYAL.. AND MAJOR BOOBAGE!
Illustrated and re-worked by The Voice Of Horror and Queen Of The Pumpkin Patch, Venus de Vilo.
Read the legendary Edgar Allan Poe poem complete with stunning and interpretive illustrations (reminiscent of Edward Gorey and Tim Burton) that delve deep into the maelstrom of madness and the macabre of who exactly the characters in the poem may be.
Re-told as a revenge fuelled tragic and shocking love story gone horrifically WRONG. WHO is Lenore?? WHO is the narrator?? And WHO! WHO! Is the Raven??
38 pages. A5 size, fully illustrated and ENTIRELY hand drawn and printed – this is a gothic tribute to die for!
The buy link for the hard copy of the book – also available as a PDF download – https://venusdevilo.bandcamp.com/merch/the-raven-by-edgar-allan-poe-illustrated-re-told-by-venus-de-vilo-physical-copy

Kbatz: House of Usher (1960)

House of Usher is Creepy, Gothic Good Fun

By Kristin Battestella

220px-House_of_usher1960American International Pictures and director/producer Roger Corman took their low budget horror productions to the next atmospheric, macabre level with this 1960 Edgar Allan Poe adaptation, the first of eight delightful, demented Poe-isms.

Philip Winthrop (Mark Damon) arrives at the gloomy Usher estate to inquire upon his ill betrothed Madeline (Myrna Fahey). Though longtime family butler Bristol (Harry Ellerbe) is kind to Philip, Madeline’s elder brother Roderick (Vincent Price) fears for his sister and the engagement thanks to a history of family illness and vice. The siblings suffer from several afflictions and sensibilities, and marriage, life in the outside world, and having children is out of the question as far as Roderick is concerned. Nonetheless, Philip wants to take Madeline away – but the Usher lineage and the crumbling mansion itself threatens them all…

Corman’s (The Little Shop of Horrors, A Bucket of Blood) big CinemaScope color spectacle may be a little slow to start for today’s viewers, but this deliberate build sets the bizarre, melancholy tone and let’s the audience know something’s afoot. The would-be marital conflict is immediately established on top of the decaying house fears, sleepwalking tendencies, and deathly obsessions. Much of Poe’s spirit is here in that chilling Twilight Zone feeling thanks to screenwriter Richard Matheson’s expansion on The Fall of the House of Usher. More back story is added, names and new characters are fleshed out to lengthen the short story to 80 minutes of material, but the designs are largely faithful and appropriately demented. Hints of the decadent family history, past excess, and religious sins of the father upon the children questions help explain or make excuses for this current sibling crazy. Can their house itself – physically capable of causing destruction in its crumbling state – actually embody the Usher vice and vile? Or is it all a bad case of hypochondria and self fulfilling prophecy? It is fun to be a fan of Poe or at least be familiar with his work before seeing House of Usher in order to fully enjoy all the twists on the big screen, however, new audiences can certainly come into a viewing cold and enjoy the kickers all the same.

“Peculiarities of temperament” aside, Vincent Price (The Pit and the Pendulum) is simply rocking the swept back platinum hair in House of Usher! The style really brings out his eyes as the crazy mounts – it’s a wonder he didn’t keep the look for all his other loony characters. Of course, Roderick is just a little too creepy and overly attached to his sister. Today’s viewers will certainly be thinking of something more incestuous or scandalous that couldn’t be out rightly stated in 1960 or even directly by Poe, and with those acute senses and other disorders on top of this weird, there is definitely an uncomfortable feeling in the titular household. You wouldn’t want to visit this guy and no wonder he wants his sister to remain at home. Ironically, Roderick’s opinion of marriage and family legacy is understandable – the viewer never doubts his smart, refined, classy sensibilities – but the fatalistic attitude, looming doom and gloom, and almost casual acceptance of illness and death is off putting to say the least. Again, is Roderick being prophetic and unnecessarily fearful or is there really a sickness? After such a lineage of bad apples, it’s reasonable that one might wonder what kind of saving grace he could put on the legacy. It’s easier to succumb to it, however, and Price is perfect in this crazy, moody, melancholy. I really don’t seen any of this supposed over acting for which Price is allegedly so famous. He’s just wonderfully bent, crawling out of his skin, and spot on here.

There are a few questions and even plot holes as to how or why Mark Damon’s (Black Sabbath) Philip meets Madeline, granted, and it is a touch awkward the way he just shows up and storms in looking for his supposedly soon to be wife. Some of the fifties lovey dovey between Damon and Myrna Fahey (Zorro) as Madeline is also a bit much and too forced amid the creepy in one of the deviations from Poe’s original unnamed narrator. Philip’s a tad annoying in his not taking the hint about his girl and his touchy, clingy style, too. Fortunately, he becomes the relatable anchor compared to this freaky family – the character even stands out visually by wearing blue suits and coats amid the other decidedly burgundy, moody designs. The viewer didn’t see their supposed happiness and Philip may be just as much to blame for Madeline’s condition, yet the audience needs to believe in the possibility that this couple might just make it. We want alls well to end well, but we should know better! Harry Ellerbe (Desk Set) is also a kindhearted edition as Bristol the long serving, loyal butler. He’s aided the family despite its faults but must now be nice to this, well, Philip is almost an intruder, isn’t he? Fahey makes for the perfect fair, ethereal, yet appropriately feeble Madeline, too, and her obsession with death and crypts crescendos wonderfully in House of Usher – those eyes, that bloody trail, classic!

Although the picture may look slightly flat or not as crisp as we spoiled audiences today expect, House of Usher is still a luxuriously dressed and good looking movie for its time and budget. From the great smoky, foggy, barren, and thorny approach to the Victorian creepy of the titular house itself, red candles and candelabras, antiques, top hats and capes, and scarlet frocks add a sinister elegance amid the shadows, cobwebs, and decrepit. The gothic styled mansion sets are surprising warm as well thanks to carpets, tapestries, and classic woodworks, and a hazy, eerie, tinted, and bizarre dream sequence adds to the surreal feeling. We know when and where this is taking place, but it all seems like an abstract purgatory or increasing nightmare as the scale gets smaller and more claustrophobic. Some of the voices are too soft or the music uneven, but thunder and lighting pop as the foundations literally crack. Fire tops off a morbid finale of dust, destruction, and building perils. All this happens in House of Usher, and yet I’d live in this house, dang straight!

Strangely, the DVD editions of House of Usher seem elusive – Netflix is Save Only at best – but the new Vincent Price Collection blu-ray set is brimming with interviews and commentaries. Due to its fifties sensibility over the contemporary, scary, sexy, scandalous, and more or less weaker Usher adaptations, this rendition is classroom friendly whilst still capturing the right demented and moody atmosphere. House of Usher proves all you need for great film is the right cast, a good story, and an eerie stage. Fans of Roger Corman, the ensemble, Edgar Allan Poe, and gothic horror surely know and love this adaptation already, and if you don’t, for shame!

Monster Mash with Valentine Wolfe

VWwide

Singer Sarah Black and bassist Braxton Ballew make up this episode’s featured band, Valentine Wolfe, a Victorian Chamber metal duo. That’s right, I said “Victorian Chamber Metal”. Their last album used the phrase “Steampunk Macabre” — I like that, too. Braxton said, “We also perform Dark Ambient Soundscapes. Usually, if this is too vague, we tell people if they like Emilie Autumn and Nightwish, we like to think they will like us.” Furthermore, we’re playing their song “Annabel Lee” from their new album, Once Upon a Midnight, which is themed around Edgar Allan Poe. Be still my little goth heart.

Braxton told me, “‘Annabel Lee’ is one of the songs off of our newest endeavor. It is a graphic novel plus full length album all about Edgar Allan Poe. The graphic novel tells a story and the music follows along with it. The story puts Poe in an alternate universe where all of his stories and poems are his reality and so we set his work to go with that. Also, we feel it’s a great first ‘single’ off the new album, one that has all of the elements that make a Valentine Wolfe song: beautiful vocals, brooding classical bass, and slamming drums and distortion. The visual artist who did the cover of our last album, Jacob Wenzka, agreed to take a larger role this time around. He has drawn a graphic novel for our story about Poe. The album is not strictly programmatic, but it does follow a story in a very similar way to Silverthorn by Kamelot. I suppose the idea started when we saw a sketch Jacob had drawn of Poe. It was amazing! We thought we would like to see more. We had also been setting Shakespeare to music and that prompted us to think about how much fun it would be to set some of Poe’s words to music. His poems are so lyrical anyway.”

Midnight

For the Horror Addicts who are Deathstalker fans, you may recognize the namesake of the band. Braxton confirmed that, “Valentine Wolfe is a character from the Deathstalker novels by Simon R. Green. He has somewhat of a depraved nature and we relate to that!”

More than just a duo, Sarah and Braxton are married and have been making music together since 2006. “We sometimes collaborate with other musicians and especially other artists, but we like to keep the main core as just a duo. We currently live in Greenville, SC. We moved here from Athens, GA. I would say that living in Greenville has certainly had a big impact on our music. Braxton works as the Education Director for the Greenville Symphony. That huge connection to the classical world has kept us from going in a fully metal direction. We have written music for three Shakespeare plays now: The Merchant of Venice, Twelfth Night, and The Winter’s Tale. All of those were made possible by us living in a city that is so supportive of the arts. We have the Metropolitan Arts Council which really brings the whole community together through an impressive array of artistic endeavor.”

With such an interesting style of music, the venues they have played are rather diverse. “We’ve played venues ranging from dive bars to art galleries. We really love playing fan conventions…it seems that’s the best overall fit in terms of finding people who are interested in our music. I think it helps we’re pretty geeky ourselves. We have played at several different conventions including Raven Con, AnachroCon, Upstate Steampunk, ConCarolinas, and DragonCon. We would love to play at Wave Gothic Treffen or Whitby Gothic Weekend or even Wacken Open Air some day! Our fans are so amazing! They are willing to travel to see us perform in different cities and we really appreciate that. One thing we’ve seen it that at conventions, especially one where we’re new, the crowd always seems to get bigger and bigger while we play. Just about every show is special-cliche, maybe, but true. I think my favorite odd story was a show where I (Braxton) was doing solo bass soundscapes with looping. A gentleman asked me what instrument i was playing, and rejected my answer of electric upright bass to tell me it was, if fact, a cello (Hint-no, it isn’t). I was still playing and looping the entire conversation, which made it even weirder.”

Their favorite bands and musicians are as varied as one might expect: “Bach, Verdi, Handel, Mozart, Debussy, Ives, Copland, Beatles, Iron Maiden, Insomnium, Opeth, Nightwish, Kamelot, Amon Amarth, Dragonforce, Ronnie James Dio. Braxton’s favorite bass player is an amazing player named Renaud Garcia-Fons. He’s also really into Francois Rabbath.”

Braxton summed up his musical tastes with a quote by Duke Ellington: “There’s only two kinds of music: good and bad, and I like both.” Braxton really only gets turned off to music that “seems to prioritize mass consumption to the exclusion of any other interesting features. But he thinks you can learn anything from anything (He listened to a Justin Bieber album for a group of kids, and was astounded at how the meaning of the song could be conveyed in only 3-5 seconds). We both think it’s better not to spend too much time concerning yourself with what turns you off, and just focus on music that really excites you.”

Is there a style of music that they’d like to try? “One style that we would like to explore more of is film scoring! We have written scores for plays so far and have done short movies for the internet, but we would love to do more! Braxton especially is a huge fan of what Philip Glass did for Dracula and we would love to do a film score for a feature length silent movie. We’d love to do an old one or a completely new one that is just in the style of an old one!”

ValentineWolfe

Both have been making music for quite a while. “Sarah started on piano in elementary school and kept up with that up through college. She got a Bachelor and Master’s degree in Composition from UGA. She has been taking voice lessons with Lisa Barksdale most recently. Braxton is a late bloomer-bass guitar at age 14, double bass at age 18, composition at 20 (apart from a few aborted attempts in high school). However, he’s kind of old-he’s been at this for about 20 years as a pro.”

What has it been like to produce their latest work? “It’s always exhilarating and terrifying. You get an idea that sets your passion on fire, and it becomes an obsession. At the same time, you hope and want your peers and your audience to get into what you’re doing. The hardest part is waiting. Works of quality take time. Sometimes, you want to just work and work and work, and the hardest part is knowing when you pass the point of diminished returns. The most fun part has been playing the new songs live, and seeing the savage joy they trigger.”

How has producing their latest album been different than their previous work? “There are two basic differences: we blended the composition/performance approach. Generally, in the classical world, you write a piece, sending it out into the world more or less fully formed, and then you learn and interpret the piece through rehearsals and performances. Sometimes you get to revise in a rehearsal, but not often. This time, we played everything we wrote either live or in the rehearsal studio several times through. It enabled us to add small and significant touches to everything. On our first two albums, we wanted to explore EBM and electronica. As such, there’s synth basses and other electronica textures we play with. For Once Upon A Midnight, we fully embraced our inner metalhead. There’s still electronica, but almost all limited to double bass (there’s a bit of piano here and there). So while we’re still very much a band who loves electronica, I’d say this album is definitely gothic metal.”

Duo

Music is so much a part of their life, working together as a couple and a band, there’s little time for diversions. Sarah said, “Not working with the band? We didn’t even realize that was an option! We are a married couple and we spend just about every waking second involved with some aspect of music making. It is nice for us because we both have the same passion and drive to immerse ourselves in a non-stop musical adventure. We do also enjoy reading and movies. That is where much of our inspiration comes from. Braxton says pretty much just music, books, and movies. I’m into video games, too. I really have ambitions to make a silent movie one of these days.”

They do occasionally listen to podcasts, but only “sporadically, and we listen to those done by people we know. Jim Ryan is a good friend of ours who has several podcasts he is involved with. Here’s a link to his podcast on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/every-world-news/id328217881  I think the only ‘celebrity’ ones we subscribe to are Mr.Deity and when they were active, DGM’s Hot Tickles. We’re much more likely to check out the individual episode here and there; most of the time, we’re listening to demos, sketches, or inspiration. We really want to make time to listen to more podcasts because Neil Degrasse Tyson also does podcasts and he is so interesting to listen to!”

So, what is next on their radar? “We need to finish up the recording and mixing on this current project but after that, we’d love to travel around for more shows. We played at several conventions last year, but we want to try to get to twice as many this year! So we have some great new music that we are finishing up and the next step will be sharing that new music with as many people as we can reach.”

They have some great, practical advice for new bands. “Watch the Ira Glass video on the gap between taste and execution as much as you can. If you want to make this your main source of income, limit your debt as much as practical. Follow your own instincts as a fan-in other words, what kinds of shows do you like going to? What kinds of sounds, experiences, etc, do you value; that is, more importantly than even money: where do you invest your time? If you can get a clear answer to those type of questions, you can get a pretty accurate road map of your trajectory. Oddly, don’t obsess too much about being ‘good’. Everyone defines that differently. As long as the best show you play is your next one, that’s a pretty good way to think about it.”

Listeners can find out more about Valentine Wolfe on their home page, ValentineWolfe.com, and listen to their wonderful music on BandcampiTunes, Amazon, Google Play, last.fm, and YouTube. You can also stalk them on Facebook, but beware, they might just stalk you back.

Guest Blog: KBatz – House of Wax and The Pit and the Pendulum

House of Wax and The Pit and the Pendulum- Some of Vincent Price’s Finest

By Kristin Battestella

After conceding to a viewing of the original House on Haunted Hill a few Octobers ago, my husband agreed to watch two more horror classics starring the silver screen’s dark prince Vincent Price. Being a dutiful horror enthusiast, I presented House of Wax and The Pit and The Pendulum.

In the 1953 fright fest House of Wax, Price stars as obsessive sculptor and historian Henry Jarrod.  His museum partner Matthew Burke (Roy Roberts, Gunsmoke, McHale’s Navy) presses Jarrod to abandon his educational approach and sculpt the shocking; but when Jarrod refuses, Burke burns down their museum for the insurance money.  Thinking Jarrod dead, the now wealthy Burke woos Cathy Gray (Carolyn Jones)-unfortunately, Jarrod survived the fire.  Deformed and maimed, Jarrod and his new sculpting team will do anything to make their macabre House of Wax museum a success-including a little help from the dead.

I’m not a fan of modern remakes, but several of the fifties spectacles are fine updates of earlier films-The Ten Commandments, anyone?  Director Andre de Toth (Springfield Rifle, The Gunfighter) takes the mystery and suspense of 1933’s The Mystery of the Wax Museum and ups the anti for glorious Technicolor and 3-D hysteria. Of course, several nearly unnecessary scenes designed specifically for the 3-D fancy look a little silly now.  Why are we watching a guy with a ping-pong paddle and can-can girls shaking their petticoats?  Though these moments are stalling today, House of Wax’s carnival and Victorian atmosphere add to the fun and the horror- finely dressed and fainting debutantes, the museum delights, scandals of murder, nudity, and mayhem!  You can’t help but enjoy the mix of turn of the century with fifties production values.  It’s very easy to get caught up in the ladies’ screams and decrepit waxworks.

Fine production is one thing, but Vincent Price (Laura, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, Edward Scissorhands– to name a few among his one hundred and fifty plus credits!) and his classic, campy horror style make House of Wax.  I love old films, but I must admit fast pace modern viewers might pass on many a good classic show if they tune in for some bad acting and a silly story.  Price, however, is special.  We believe him as the moral artist unjustly wronged, yet delight in his masterful- if twisted- plan to serve his enemies their comeuppance. Price can be over the top sure, but he gives us a complete, slick takling, multidimensional Jarrod to root for.

Likewise, our Victorian scream queens match skill and beauty with Mr. Price. Famous for her role on The Addams Family, here Carolyn Jones is the complete opposite of her goth Morticia.  Shrill, blonde, sassy, ridiculously corseted and lovely- Jones’ pivotal role proves she’s more than a one trick actress.  Phyllis Kirk’s (The Thin Man) serious Sue Allen is also more than just the object of Jarrod’s wax obsessions.  Jarrod may be charming, but Sue suspects what no one else is willing to imagine.  She’s supposedly little more than a delicate Victorian flower, but the audience relates to Sue and wants her to unmask Jarrod and his schemes.

Unfortunately, as henchman go, House of Wax serves up little. Of note, of course is Charles Bronson (The Dirty Dozen, Death Wish) as the mute strongman Igor, but boyfriend Scott Andrews (Paul Picerni, To Hell and Back) and Lt. Brennan (Frank Lovejoy, Strategic Air Command) and his cops look like they just walked across the street from the set of Dragnet.  They serve their parts as annoying policemen and solid good guys, but that’s not where the flavor of House of Wax is at.  Thankfully, the creepy wax figures and brightly colored décor balance House of Wax’s high-end scares and fifties values far better. It wouldn’t be a classic if we didn’t have a wooden, fedora wearing copper, now would it?

Made in 1961, Roger Corman’s (House of Usher, Children of the Corn) big screen adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and The Pendulum is similar in low budget production but different in mood and style. Twilight Zone writer Richard Matheson lengthens the freaky, gothic feeling of Poe’s short story, developing a psychological examination of torture and death-not exactly the carnival atmosphere of House of Wax, but exceptional in its own right.

It’s the 1500s and Francis Barnard (John Kerr) travels to Spain after the mysterious and sudden death of his sister Elizabeth (Barbara Steele).  His distraught brother-in-law Nicholas Medina (Price) provides precious little and then suspicious information about Elizabeth’s death. Nicholas’ sister Catherine (Luana Anders) and Doctor Leon (Anthony Carbone) are very protective.  When ghostly scares keep the family up at night, Nicholas fears Elizabeth may have been buried alive.  As Nicholas’ breakdown progresses, the torrid and torturous Medina family history is revealed-creating deadly consequences for the current house guests.

The Pit and The Pendulum may start slow for some, but the medieval setting, isolated castle, and remnants of the Spanish Inquisition set up a very moody and eerie picture.  The castle sets are perfectly dressed with candelabras, cobwebs, dungeons, and lush velvet.  It’s beautiful and scary at the same time.  You’d visit here perhaps for the novelty, but you wouldn’t want to spend the night. Corman and Matheson smartly flesh out their cast and add naughty history in the spirit of Poe.  The latter half of the picture may become a touch too comical, but the editing and pacing of the titular pendulum is masterfully done.

Once again, Vincent Price steals the show in The Pit and The Pendulum.  We can understand Nicholas’ pain-a horrific childhood, a beautiful young wife lost.  We feel bad and yet delight in the slow mental decay as Nicholas snaps over his family’s toys-the rack and the iron maiden among them.  I suppose not all modern audiences can enjoy such an over the top performance, but Price proves he’s the master of horror camp here.  He’s famous for his fanatical onscreen horror personas; and after spending the night with The Pit and the Pendulum, you believe Price is really a freaky, horrific kind of guy.

Keeping up the heart pumping psychological suspense are a fine John Kerr (South Pacific) and Luana Anders (Dementia 13).  Kerr is perfect as the voice of reason amid these hesitant and secretive people, and Anders is charming as the damsel wanting to tell all, but too fearing and careful to take the plunge.  Despite the neck rolls, Anthony Carbone (A Bucket of Blood) is also slick as the doctor with all the answers. Sometimes such manly men can look a little silly in good old puffy pantaloons, but each actor looks the Old World part.

Anders’ gowns and costumes are lovely as well. You believe in ghostly ladies with all these flowing veils and rustling silks trailing along the spiral staircases. Her onscreen time is brief, and her few lines are dubbed, but Barbara Steele (Shivers) starts her scream queen status early in The Pit and the Pendulum. The costumes are dynamite, and her scares and twists are top notch.  Her big finish here might be small and obvious today; but the naughty performances, enchanting costumes, and scary sets are well worth the titular action and twist ending in The Pit and the Pendulum.

Despite our high tech modern sensibilities, there are a few scares to be had in both House of Wax and The Pit and the Pendulum.  I wouldn’t recommend super youngins take a viewing, but there’s actually precious little blood, gore, skin, and language to seriously offend.  Price and his horror classics may be low budget and old to us, but there’s also something highbrow as well.  It says a lot when we’re still talking about scary stories and crafty movie-making fifty years later.  House of Wax and The Pit and the Pendulum don’t need desensitizing sex, drugs, and rock and roll to keep us in their spectacular, twisted, and macabre worlds.

Fortunately, such delightful film is cheap to come by today.  Both House of Wax and The Pit and the Pendulum are available on DVD in several editions and sets -usually including a double bill with other Vincent Price gems.  Check your video store’s bargain bins, rental options, or online viewing for classic scandal and mayhem this Halloween.

Biting Dog Press

Since Biting Dog Press was nice enough to arrange for me to interview Nancy Collins for episode 81 of Horror Addicts, I thought I would write about who they are and what they have to offer. Biting Dog Press is a small independent book publisher that specializes in producing limited edition collectable books and e-books. All of their collectable books are handmade and limited to no more then 300 copies.

One of the collectable books they have includes  The Resurrection And The Life by Brian Keene which was limited to 250 signed hardcover copies. The book was produced in the style of a medieval manuscript and tells the tale of a shocking twist from the Book of John. They also have limited edition books from Edgar Allen Poe, Neil Gaiman and Jack Ketchum.

Biting Dog also has quite a few e-books available. Among them is Through Darkest America by Neal Barrett  Jr. Which I reviewed earlier in the season and its sequel Dawn’s Uncertain Light. The sequel follows a young man named Howie Ryder as he travels to Silver Island which was meant to be a symbol of how America was recovering after the great war. In reality the island is a concentration camp where genetic engineering is being done and his sister is being held captive.

Some other books from Biting Dog Press includes: The Transformed Mouse by Jack Ketchum which is a fable aimed at adults but not for people that fear mice. Murder Mysteries by Neil Gaiman which is about an angel who was murdered in heaven before the fall. Then there is Suffer The Flesh by Monica J. O Rourke which tells the tale of a woman named Zoey who was kidnapped in Manhattan and is about to learn what ecstasy and pain is really about.

Another good book that I just finished reading from Biting Dog Press is Knuckles And Tales by Nancy Collins. This is a collection of gothic short stories and novelettes all set in the South. Some of the things you’ll find in  this anthology include a half catfish half woman that lives in the Mississippi River, a half alligator half man that attacks fishermen, a traveling sideshow with a snake charmer, a geek that bites the head off of chickens, a voodoo priest who is leading his undead family out for revenge and an old witch who can turn your luck around for a price.

One of my favorite stories in this collection and really there isn’t a bad story in this anthology is Billy Fearless. Billy is not the sharpest knife in the drawer and hes not exactly stupid but he does have a tendency to take everything at face value and is immune to fear. Thinking that he is an idiot his father sends him away with some money and tells him to go out into the world,  make your fortune and never return. Billy leaves and comes to a little hotel in front of a haunted mansion on a lake. Billy gets dared to spend three nights in the mansion. Several people have been brave enough to enter the mansion but none have lived to tell the tale . Billy is not a normal guy though and the evil spirits that haunt the house may have met their match. I loved how Billy is presented in this story, hes a  nice person that wants to help people but because he is a little slow and never scared, people get the wrong idea. The end of the story is hilarious and I loved it when the evil spirit in charge of haunting the mansion confronts Billy. This story teaches that being righteous does have its rewards.

Another great story from Knuckles and Tales is The Two Headed Man. This is kind of a bizarre love story with an equally bizarre sex scene. It all starts when a man shows up at a diner just before it closes, he unzips his coat and the waitress and cook are surprised to see that he has two heads…or does he? I don’t want to tell any more about this story because it would ruin the surprise. What makes this story good is that it teaches that even people who are a little different can find love and never judge a book by its cover. Also the characters were beautifully written, I could relate to all of them and wanted to see them have a happy ending.

Nancy Collins makes the rural south come alive in Knuckles and Tales and I enjoyed the fact that three of the stories uses a traveling carnival and sideshow as its settings. If you like horror with a mix of comedy and old legends then you’ll want to check this one out.

May Upcoming events

May 3rd-7th / Hauntcon /Monroeville, Pennsylvania / Professional Haunter’s Convention includes haunting seminars, haunted house tours, makeup seminars, costume ball and hearse show. For more information go to: hauntcon.com

May 4th – 6th / Texas Frightmare Weekend / Dallas, Texas/This horror festival includes a film festival, dealers room and appearances by Piper Laurie, Rowdy Roddy Piper, Barbara Crompton, Tom Savini and many more. For more information go to: texasfrightmareweekend.com

Saturday May 12th / Bal Bizarre / Montreal, Canada / This event is brought to you by the Montreal Fetish weekend and celebrates fashion, passion, fantasy and
erotic subliminal desires. Tickets are $15 and includes live music and an
appearance by D.J. Faith. For more information go to: www.facebook.com/events/375091242515431

May 11th-13th / H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival and Cthulhu Con / Portland, Oregon /
Some of the activities at the con include a reading by Jenna M. Pitman and
showings of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven along with The Whisperer in the Darkness
and The Haunted Palace. The event also includes panel discussions, vendors and
prizes for the best independent horror films. For more information go to: hplfilmfestival.com

Friday May 18th / Billings Zombie Prom and Walk / Billings, Montana / This undead
celebration includes a zombie walk around downtown Billings followed by a prom.
Make up artists will be on hand to turn people into zombies and there will be a
jello heart and brain eating contest along with a horror basket silent auction.
Special guests will include: Timothy Patrick Quill from Army of Darkness, Alex
Vincent from Child’s Play and Robert Jayne from Tremors. For more information go to: zombiesofmontana.com/events.html

The Pit and the Pendulum (1991)

The Pit and the Pendulum is a short story written by Edgar Allen Poe, and was released to the public back in 1842.  This movie, which bares the same name, was released back in 1991 and was directed by Stuart Gordon.  Viewers of the film should not go into this movie hoping for a retelling of Poe’s story but instead a film that takes some inspiration from Poe.

In this version of The Pit and the Pendulum we find some similarities to Poe’s original work.  The film tells us about the torture that is endured during the inquisition of the 1490’s.  We get glimpses of the crude and obscene ways the lead Inquisitor Torquemada practiced his craft within this film.

The opening of this film will be your first glimpse on what to expect when viewing the film.  Before the credits even roll we find Torquemada having a dead man exhumed from his entombment.  The purpose is that the individual has been deemed a witch.  The order is given to punish the sinner and the corpse is raised and then brutally beaten.

The problem is that not all will find this a traumatic act of torture, but some may find it comedic.  This is one of the things that seem to run throughout the film.  There are quips and jokes that are spoken that add some levity. It also helps that some of the comedic lines are delivered by actors that many horror, and television fans, will recognize.   The scribe, Francisco is played by the actor Jeffery Combs, who many will remember from The Frighteners.  The witch Esmeralda is played by Frances Bay, better remembered as Happy Gilmore’s grandmother.  Also in the film is Oliver Reed who happens to meet a fate that is pulled right out of another of Poe’s stories.

The movie stars nearly unknown Actress Rona De Ricci who plays the young woman Maria.  It is her unfortunate luck to capture the eye of Torquemada as she begs for the beating of a young boy to be halted.  Upon her arrest her husband, Antonio (Jonathan Fuller) tries everything he can to get her out of prison, but ends up arrested himself.  It is at this time we find out that Torquemada, played masterfully by Lance Henricksen, may possibly be insane.  At least we get that appearance as we watch him battle an internal struggle between the love he has for Maria and the love for the church.

The Pit and the Pendulum is a film that may divide the audience of those who come to view the film. Those who are Poe fans may see the film as a cheap attempt to capitalize off Poe’s story by loosely basing its action on Poe’s work and at times having little resemblance to the original work.  Others, however, will watch the film for what it is. They will watch a film that through horror and comedy tell the story of the torture Maria receives at Torquemada’s command.  They will also view the torture that Torquemada bestows on himself through his internal strife.  The one thing you will not see in this version of the inquisition is the lightheartedness of Monty Python, or the dance number from Mel Brooks.  I wonder what side of the fence viewers will find themselves on when finished with the film.  One final thing to note, the film does have full frontal nudity and could be an issue for some.

Guest Blog: The “Eeeee” Factor In Horror Movies – E A Draper

You know, I used to be more of a horror movie fan but with the release of movies such as “Saw”, “The Hostel”, and the re-release of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” I find myself yearning for the early days of my horror addiction, yearning for the days of “Frankenstein”, and “Dracula”, and “Friday the 13th”. I want to go back to the days when you would be scared out of your pants and jump at every noise when you went to bed that night and God help you if you forgot to close your closet door ‘cause there was no way you could sleep with it open and once that light was out you were pretty much stuck hiding under your covers all night.
Ahhh…those were the days.

When I was growing up some of the movies that scared me the most were the Freddie Kruger movies (up to number three because to be honest once you get past the third in any series it just gets silly) and movies like “It’s Alive”, and the first few Pinhead movies (that would be the “Hell Raiser” movies for all of you non-pinhead fans). Now, thinking over why I like these older horror movies with their “lame” (as some of my younger friends would call it) special effects, and why the more modern and more realistic films don’t appeal to me, was kind of a hard at first. So, to figure it all out I went back and viewed bits and pieces of these oldies but goodies. I even looked up snippets of Edgar Allen Poe’s classic “The Pit and the Pendulum” staring Vincent Price. Then I went and watched parts of “The Hostel”, “The Hills Have Eyes”, and “Saw I”. After watching nearly three hours of varying degrees of scariness I finally put my finger on what is was that made me yearn for the days of Jason and his scary white mask. Guess what it was? Well, since none of you are mind readers (or at least I don’t think you are…can’t read your minds) I will tell you.

It is the “eeeee” factor. What is this mysterious “eeeee” factor that I am basing my like or dislike of a movie on? Well, let me share with you this magic little noise that defines how good I think a movie is.

When I watch a horror movie I make varying sounds of shock and disbelief such as ahhh…ohhh…eeeee….ewww, and generally cower behind my hands (“Jeepers Creepers” was watched almost entirely behind my hands and consisted of me doing nothing but “eeeee”). The sound that I made the most, if it was a really scary movie, was “eeeee” so that is what I decided to call my rating system for horror movies. It’s simple, easy to use, and easily understood by all because, in my opinion, only a really scary, spooky, on the edge of your seat movie draws this noise from a person involuntarily. I mean, come on, it’s a horror movie and it’s supposed to make you want to nail all your windows and doors shut when it’s over. To me, it’s not a good horror movie if I am not “eeeeeing” a lot and watching it through my parted fingers. And that, my friends, is why I did not enjoy “Hostel” and the others. I simple found no “eeeee” factor to them (mostly I just went ewww). All I wanted to do was cover my mouth and close my eyes. There was no “ahhh…ohhh…eeeee…ewww” there was only “when is this movie going to end so my stomach will stop trying to exit my body.” Basically, I wasn’t really scared. Grossed out, yes, but not “looking under my bed” scared and “searching behind all my doors” scared.

Sigh. I feel so…old fashioned. What is a horror fan to do when so many horror movies are now produced along the lines of “Saw?” All I can say is “thank god for DVD’s.” At least I can watch my favorites on the player. Now, I don’t “poo poo” all modern horror movies. I actually like quite a few and will list some of them in with my favorites.

So, anyone else out there wishing for a little more “eeeee” and a little less “ewww”?

A few of my favorites

  • White Noise
  • Silent Hill
  • Christine
  • Any Edgar Allen Poe movies
  • The Evil Dead
  • Sean of the Dead
  • Resident Evil (all of them and yes…I know…very gory but uber cool moves by Alice)
  • Frankenstein
  • Almost any vampire movie (I’m a junkie what can I say)
  • Nightmare on Elm Street
  • Friday the 13th
  • Alien (shivers just typing it)
  • Hell Raiser
  • The House on Haunted Hill (1959 & 1999 versions)
  • Hot Fuzz
  • Van Helsing

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E.A. Draper is the co-author of “God Wars” with her partner Mark Eller.
Visit her on the web at: www.eadraper.wordpress.com or download the
podcast The Hell Hole Tavern which features all three books in the “God
Wars” series as well as additional side stories at:
www.hellholetavern.com