Merrill’s Musical Musings : Ro’s Recs

Ro’s Recs

The Prince of Darkness—Ozzy Osbourne himself—released a phenomenal album at the end of February. Ordinary Man is Ozzy’s twelfth studio album since he left Black Sabbath in 1979 and embarked on a colorful solo career. Super producer Andrew Watt (Post Malone) helped Ozzy create a beautiful piece of music that has echoes of 70s glam rock, Sabbath-inspired metal, and even a Beatles-esque tune with legend Sir Elton John. Friends Slash, Duff McKagan (Guns ‘n’ Roses) and Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers) as well as Post Malone, Travis Scott, Charlie Puth, and Tom Morello all make appearances on the heavy album that takes a lot of chances and yet still sounds like Ozzy perfection. Actor Jason Momoa even did a teaser video for release day. Ozzy has definitely been to hell and back, and with his recent diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, he’s still got stories to tell. I listened to an album release party on SiriusXM-Ozzy’s Boneyard with his pal Billy Morrison and Ozzy admitted that working with Andrew Watt saved his life as he went through the most difficult health crisis of his life. Let’s hope he’s well enough to gift us with more music in the coming years. Check out Ordinary Man, streaming on Spotify and other vendors.

That’s it for this month. Stay tuned for more Merrill’s Musical Musings… 

 Gargoyles a Review :  Bernie Casey’s Unsung Role 

Gargoyles : A Review or Bernie Casey’s Unsung Role

by James Goodridge    

Premiering as a television movie the evening of November 24, 1972, on the CBS Network Thursday Night Movies series, Gargoyles was amazing in that a generation of preteens have fond memories of having the bejeezus scared out of them back then.

Considering the glaring budget constraints that showed in the production, it is considered a frightful oldie but goodie. Directed by B.W.L. Norton, written by Elinor and Stephen Karpf, music by Robert Prince and doing the best he can, costume designer Tom Dawson the story is set in the American southwest.

Anthropologist/paleontologist Dr. Mercer Boley (Cornel Wilde of the cinematically provocative Naked Prey 1966) and his daughter Diana played by Jennifer Salt (Who would years later in 2011 would be a producer/showrunner for American Horror Story) are invited to Willie’s Museum run by Uncle Willie played by Woodrow Chambliss, (If you stood at the intersection of TVland and Metv and threw a rock you would hit a TV Western he was in. You have seen him on a dozen shows and never knew his name.)

A young Scott Glenn appears as dirt biker James Reeger. Low and behold Grayson Hall of Dark Shadows has a part as Mrs. Parks the Motel owner always with a glass of something in her hand, Dark Shadows had ended the year before in 1971 on ABC. 

Then you have Bernie Casey. Uncle Willie is incinerated after an attack on his museum during which the Boleys escape with the bones of a fellow gargoyle that’s when we first glimpse them. Their purpose: every 500 years they appear on the earth’s surface to hatch gargoyle eggs.

I must say I can’t remember when I first saw this movie and confess never paid attention to the opening or closing credits but loved whoever the actor was who portrayed “The Gargoyle” so it was a shock for me to find out on IMDb, that it was Casey.

 Bernie Casey’s (6/8/39 – 9/19/17) initial fame was as a high hurdler during the U.S. Olympic trials in 1960. Then as a wide receiver for the NFL’s L.A. Rams and finally the San Francisco 49ers from the mid-’60s. 

Catching the acting bug over the years he appeared in Hit Man (1971), Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde (1975), The Martian Chronicles (NBC 1980), Spies Like Us (1982) and Deep Space Nine season two, guest-starring as Calvin Hudson in “The Maquis” part one and two episodes just to name a few.

The subplot about a Gargoyle with a thirst for knowledge of the surface world to me is along with that 70’s feel it has is a good grindhouse gem to watch.

While Mr. Casey didn’t have what one would call range as an actor I would give it to him in Gargoyles in that under Mr. Dawson’s make up work he was able to give the character life.

Merrill’s Musical Musings: Cellmod Review

Merrill’s Musical Musings – Cellmod Review 

Greetings and salutations. Welcome to March! It’s nearly Spring, Daylight Savings Time is just around the corner, and in California, the trees are blooming, the sun is shining, and the primary election is happening soon.

Many things are afoot in Ro’s world and things are about to get hectic. I’ve got a new supernatural suspense novel—Healer—releasing on Friday, March 13th, and then I’m off to Nashville for the Book Lovers Con March 18-22.

I plan to do some music-related visits such as Third Man Records—Jack White’s record label and vinyl factory—and southern songwriter and alternative rapper Yelawolf’s Slumerican made flagship vintage clothing store and barbershop. I’m also going on a bus tour with a bunch of drunken friends where we’re supposedly getting some history of the town, but if you have suggestions of can’t-miss music locations—bonus points if they’re haunted—please leave them in the comments or hit me up at rlmerrillauthor@gmail.com or www.facebook.com/rlmerrillauthor. I’ll be posting pics on my author page as well as my Instagram @rlmerrillauthor and I’ll tag you if you leave me a suggestion. 

This month’s review is of EDM/Trance/Trip-Hop artist Cellmod’s new album The Dissident. According to his bio, “Cellmod was born to display an adaptation to his surrounding environment. The name itself signifies a desire to unify with the very roots of one’s physical being, or in simpler terms, Cellmod is taking it back to the vibe and pulse of the music.” I can definitely feel that vibe as I listen to standout tracks such as “Ransacked” and the naughty, old school sci-fi tinged “Harder Serum.” I can picture a woman with dark hair perched atop dramatic stilettos in a fitted pencil skirt and blazer as she walks with purpose down a stark white hallway, passing unmarked doors. The clack-clack of her heels is drowned out by the ominous sound of “The Machine” as she enters a laboratory where classified experiments are being done on unsuspecting young male subjects. Oh…did my imagination carry me away there for a minute? Fine. I will say that the track “Let Them Sleep” gives me a very Nine Inch Nails groove that I dig very much. If electronic music is your jam and you like to have some well-produced, good quality background music to do your…experiments to, Cellmod is your guy. Check out The Dissidents today!

Stay tuned for more Merrill’s Musical Musings… 

Book Review : Compression by Tim Cundle

 Compression, by Tim Cundle

Reviewed by Marie RavenSoul

Meet Flanagan, Elliot, Becky, Taylor, and Blake.

It is August 28, 1998, and Flanagan is woken up by his friend Elliot after having fallen asleep in the back seat of the car. They stop at a restaurant for coffee and discuss their plans as they head back to their small-town childhood home. After being away for ten years, they are returning for their high school reunion. Flanagan admits to wanting to visit Alison, the woman he has always loved but could never have. He mentions the dream. Elliot freaks out and tells him to never mention it again. 

As the story moves forward, Flanagan describes what it was like when he was young. When he mentions the “Black Flag tape that was eating the stereo from the inside,” I was reminded of my teenage years when my favourite album would get stuck in the tiny mechanisms of my Walkman. I would try to unravel it only to have it rip in the end. Having disdain for teachers and cops, he believes they only want compliance and order. Taking the blame for his friends, he often got arrested and went to jail. Punk rock was his favourite kind of music, and then lifestyle choices led to alcohol abuse, sex, and drugs. 

Education was of no interest to Flanagan, and all he wanted was to make his mark on the world, especially through his band, Crack Jester. He describes Elliot as a charming person who could say anything, and people would do what he asked of them. When he asked Flanagan about the old man on the beach, it riled him up, as it is the one thing they had agreed not to discuss. 

When they arrive at their destination, Flanagan gets a hotel room and is surprised by a visit from Becky, a friend from years ago. The questions she asks make him think about the life he has chosen for himself. She resents that he left home and that he has become a successful punk rock star, but when he is alone in his room, he contemplates the perks to his career, such as the four-poster bed, Jacuzzis, and the complimentary champagne and he feels like a fraud. He takes the heroin out of his bag and prepares it. As he gives a detailed account of injecting the drug, I feel like I am there with him, cringing as the needle pierces his skin. 

“Arranging a chair in front of the window so that I’d have a sea view, I tightened my belt into a tourniquet, sat down and pushed the needle in. The question of purity never even crossed my mind. Strength didn’t matter as long as the heroin hit my brain like an inbound freight train. Shit, even if I’d got a hot shot that would have been just fine with me. Over, finished, gone, done, out, without any hysteria. Pushing the plunger is part of the thrill, almost a lucky dip, you don’t know what you’re going to get and for a brief moment you’re aware of the boundary that stands between control and pleasure.” Pp 54

He returns to the cave. Taylor, who is now a police officer, steps out of the shadows and brings the past back to life. The two exchange a few words, and the tension between the old friends is palpable. A deed that they participated in as teenagers, along with the others, drove them apart, yet it will bind them together for the rest of their lives. 

Flanagan calls his manager and makes a career decision that affects Elliot. Then he gives away an item that has been an important part of his life for the past ten years. He knows that if he wants to make greater achievements, he must leave the past behind. This manner of thinking is tested at the reunion, as he is tempted by something that he has always wanted and must decide if he will partake. 

My favourite character is Flanagan. From the beginning, I was drawn into his mind. He was rough on the edges, and even though I felt sympathy for him most of the time, I wanted to throttle him for getting into certain situations and for bending his Will to Elliot’s. I like how he was never afraid to speak his mind and learned that being true to himself was crucial to being happy and successful.

Cundle has a great way with words. He is not afraid to deal with difficult topics such as cocaine and heroin use, pornography, violence, and unprotected sex. He uses description well so that the story comes alive, and the reader can picture what is happening. The dialogue is fast-paced and moves the story along, each character having a unique voice that the reader can identify. The story is told from Flanagan’s point of view and is very conversational as if he is in the room talking to you face to face. 

I enjoyed Compression very much. I had to keep reading as there was always a hint that something major was about to happen. If you like thrillers and intense character-driven stories, then this book might be of interest. 

Tim Cundle was born in Liverpool and is the creator of Mass Movement, a music and lifestyle fanzine. He has been a part of the road crew and a guitar technician for various punk bands in Canada and the United States. 

 

Black History Month : Black Devil From Hell / a Review

     Black Devil Doll From Hell or Chester Turners Revenge

  A Review by James Goodridge

“This is bad, very bad … but I love it,” I say to myself while clicking through a cornucopia of videos, reviews, soundtrack music, and other snippets, but not the full-length movie Black Devil Doll From Hell or BDDFH. Now I have a macabre love for B movies be it Sci-Fi or Horror the more absurd (see Scream Baby Scream 1969) or Grind House the better. With some low budget movies watching them you get a sense that they were made for the quick buck, but some have a feel that passion was injected into the movie kind of an Ed Wood radiance.

BDDFH was written, directed, music scored and produced by Chester Turner. Starring Shirley Jones, it was filmed in 1984 in Chicago for under $10,000 using a video camera, a VCR and a Casio organ for soundtrack music.

The ’80s were an era of mobile video freedom for people to create, a challenge to would-be amateur filmmakers. Mr. Turner took up the challenge. The plot surrounds Helen Black(Jones) a God-fearing woman who buys a three-foot doll with Rick James corn rolls from a strange gift shop, not aware that the doll is possessed by the devil. Later in the slow-paced movie, the doll comes to life and attacks her in the shower. For the rest of the movie, we’re tormented by devil doll’s old hustler voice harassing Helen as she has succumbed to his power, going on the prowl to pick up men for sexual gratification. Obie Dunson plays the Preacher in some scenes.

Years later, Turner said he stayed up three days and nights writing the script. Maybe I’m wrong because I had a hard time following parts of the movie and there is barely a plot. Now I must say that the doll itself is creepy, one of those old ventriloquist dummies with the huge eyes and to Turner’s credit you do get a visceral sense of unease.

The Casio droning on in the background makes you wish it would stop. Scenes lingering too long, stiff acting and bad lighting doom this labor of love Chester Turner produced. Selling the movie on VHS from the trunk of his car then making sales pitches in-person to video store owners generated limited profits for Turner and Jones (they were in a relationship at the time) and soon the movie was forgotten with Turner and Jones moving on to create Tales From the Quadead Zone (1987).

Over the decades,  social media has not been kind to BDDFH with would-be reviewers piling on with bad reviews. I came across one reviewer on YouTube using a racial slur when talking about Ms. Jones’s looks. But a documentary Adjust Your Tracking (2013) and a Daily Grind House article in 2013 revived interest in BDDFH. It is now the holy grail when it comes to VHS tape collectors with a tape selling between $ 419 to $1,000 online.  

Internet detective work helped me come across a Q & A segment at the 2013 Austin Film Society Festival featuring Turner and Jones. The movie now in cult status, Turner answered questions with humbleness and grace while Jones is reserved and matter of fact. Both feel vindicated, Turner still has the master copy and was redistributing it on DVD. In 2001

A non-related remake of BDDFH was released on DVD. A soft porn splatter movie mess, the best I can say about it is that… I’ll get back to you a few years from now maybe with some kind words.

At the end of the day Turner and Jones chased their dream with passion.

Black Horror Month : Sugar Hill/A Blacxploitation Gem

 

Sugar Hill: A Blaxploitation Gem

Review by Valjeanne Jeffers

Sugar Hill (1974) is a cult classic, a gem of the Blaxplotation era, and among a small cadre of flicks, such as Blacula, that combined horror with commentary on racism and oppression. Movies of the 1970s were resoundingly pro-black, and nothing if not conscious.

The movie begins with a Voudon dance performance, and an introduction to Diana “Sugar” Hill (Marki Bey), a photographer who is engaged to club owner, “Langston” (Larry Don Johnson). Unfortunately, a local gangster “Mr. Morgan,” (Robert Quarry) has his heart set on buying Langston’s popular Club Haiti. When Langston refuses to sell, Morgan sends his thugs to murder him. Sugar asks the matriarch of her family, “Mama Maitresse,” (Zara Cully) a Vodoun Priestess, to help her take revenge. After much pleading, Mama Maitresse agrees and calls upon the powerful Loa, Baron Samedi. Together Baron Samedi (Don Pedro Colly), Sugar and an army of Zombies slaughter Sugar’s enemies.

Sugar is a sexy, charismatic heroine. The Baron himself is surprised by her boldness, “You’re not afraid of me!” It is this fearlessness that sways him to grant her wish for vengeance and place an army of zombies at her disposal. She is the original Blaxploitation feminist. Strong, and self-possessed: a butt-kicking mama, who is ready and willing to take care of business; even if it means spilling blood. Yet, as was often characteristic of 1970s movies, Sugar is all too willing to give her heart to the right man. When her former lover, appropriately named “Valentine” (Richard Lawson) gets too close to solving the murders, Sugar tells Baron Samedi, “Stop him but don’t kill him,” for she’s already falling back in love with him. 

This movie is rich with archetypes of the African Diaspora. Morgan and his cronies are virulent racists who throw around the word “coon,” and other racial slurs. His only black employee “Fabulous” (Charles Robinson) accepts their treatment with a tolerant grin; although ironically he is second-in-command to Morgan. Destroying Morgan and his men is a symbolic blow against oppression.

Sugar’s slain lover’s name, “Langston,” subtly alludes to the famed African American writer and poet, Langston Hughes. Baron Samedi is a powerful Voudon Loa, usually found at the crossroad between the worlds of the living and the dead, with a taste for tobacco and rum. In Sugar Hill, he’s artfully portrayed, right down to his cigar and top hat. Beside the Baron, stands Mama Maitresse. Mama Maitresse is over 100 years old. She depicts the honored elder: ancient and revered. The zombies Sugar commands, are actually slaves, who have been resurrected from the dead. There are repeated references to slavery throughout the movie. 

And Morgan’s men don’t just go after black folks. They bully and exploit anyone that stands in their way—black, white and Latina. Thus, Sugar Hill portrays a struggle between the powerful and powerless. During a scene when one of Morgan’s men extorts money from a group of seamen, “You’ll pay for your jobs,” he bellows, “or starve!” Baron Samedi stands nearby, looking none too pleased. Moments later, Sugar is there. “Hey!” she says, “you and friends killed my man! I’m passing sentence. And the sentence is death.” At her command, the zombies chop him up—with machetes no less.

Sugar Hill holds its own among the best Black Horror films of the70s, films like Blacula and Dr. Black and Mr. Hyde. The chemistry between the characters, excellent typecasting and acting, make thoroughly enjoyable viewing, even beside the slick special effects of the 21st century. Filmmakers of today could take a page or two from Sugar Hill, and others from the 1970s. Especially if they want to create a thriller with a message.  

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Valjeanne Jeffers is a graduate of Spelman College, a member of the Carolina African American Writer’s Collective, and the author of eight books. 

Valjeanne was featured in 60 Black Women in Horror Fiction. Her first novel, Immortal, is featured on the Invisible Universe Documentary time-line. Her stories have been published in Reflections Literary and Arts Magazine; Steamfunk!; Griots: A Sword and Soul Anthology; Genesis Science Fiction Magazine; Griots II: Sisters of the Spear; Possibilities; and The City. Book I of The Switch II: Clockwork was nominated for the best ebook novella of 2013 (eFestival of Words), and her short story Awakening was published as a podcast by Far Fetched Fables. Preview or purchase Valjeanne’s novels at www.vjeffersandqveal.com

Black Horror Month : Warmth / An Unforgettable Journey

WARMTH by Sumiko Saulson

Review by Valjeanne Jeffers

In her third novel, Warmth, horror writer aficionado Sumiko Saulson weaves a supernatural labyrinth peopled with Afflicted beings or ghulah: Creatures who live by drinking the blood and eating the flesh of humans. The ghulah are intelligent meta-humans who go about their unusual lives … loving, eating, and always seeking warmth. For their transformation has rendered them unable to sustain body heat. And then there’s the second breed of preternatural creatures. The Dead: Lethal walking, breathing corpses with no other desire than to kill and eat. 

The heroine of Warmth, Leilana or, as she prefers to be called, Sera, is one of the Afflicted: A ghulah. Like all of her kind, she is not immortal but has an extraordinarily long life span. Sera was transformed and lost an eye when she was attacked by one of the Dead. And she takes great joy in hunting and killing these creatures… well aware of the dangers they pose for the world of the living. 

She looks like a young runaway, yet she is in reality centuries old, and she’s been pregnant since the Spanish Inquisition with a fetus that is also Afflicted. Yet Sera has no desire to be a mother and feels no maternal stirrings towards her unborn fetus— a child that will take centuries to grow to adulthood.  

The reader is first introduced to Leilana during the conquest of America, as she is thrust into the role of both rescuer and hunter. When a zombie attacks one of the men who has offered her shelter, thinking her to be an old woman, Sera quickly reveals herself to be a deadly supernatural being.

“She flew into the front door of the cottage, where the cause of Adolfo’s suffering became immediately apparent. The original Lazaro… the old gravedigger, had him pinned against the wall, and had bitten deeply into the flesh of his cheek, chewing it… eating it. Rotted clothes hung from the rail-thin frame of the Old Lazaro, and in places, purplish, bruised flesh showed through. The whites of his eyes had gone the cloudy yellow color of mucous. The ends of his fingers were caked with thick, wet grave dirt.

“I hate the Dead,” she hissed under her breath, running toward it. She shoved the sharpened end of her pike through the creature’s eye with such force that it went through the back of its skull, pinning it to the wall. A gelatinous mixture of curdled blood, vitreous humor and purulence issued from the ruptured visage, first slowly oozing, then gushing toward the floor.

Lifting the robe and the long skirts below it, she revealed her leg up to the knee—a small ax was strapped to the outside of her calf in a leather holster. She removed the weapon with a single graceful motion and shortly had it level to the creature’s neck.”

Six hundred years later, Sera is still living, still hunting… and still cold. But now she lives in a modern world: Full of new and lethal dangers. She has enemies. The most dangerous one a psychopathic ghula, whom she crossed paths with long ago. This maniac is convinced that Sera has stolen her baby from her womb, and is determined to reclaim the infant.  

Thus Warmth is a story that challenges the notions of womanhood and beauty. When Sera has the opportunity to have her scared face repaired, she decides to keep her visage as it is— scared though it may be. She cherishes her ruined face because it is the only way to preserve her cherished memories. 

When she looked in the mirror and saw her face, Sera remembered so many friends she’d had in her long past who were no longer with her. Perhaps even more so, she liked it because it was the only thing left in the world to remind her of the life she had before her Affliction—a short life, and difficult. It was gone now, faded into the pages of history.

Her marked face and her birth name were all she had left of it. 

Yet throughout her journey, we are reminded of just how beautiful Sera really is … once one looks beyond her face. This is a novel about becoming: Growing, and reinventing oneself when it’s necessary for survival. 

Saulson has spun a rich, multi-layered tale of both dark humor and nail-biting suspense. Along with the tough survivor Sera, we become acquainted with an entourage of characters; some human, some ghulah, and each with their own complicated, twisted lives. Among this cast is Sweet Melana, the brooding Larenzo, and S&M Master Fadriqueallies, foes. And all preparing for a war that may consume both the Afflicted and humankind alike. 

Saulson is a consummate horror writer, and in Warmth she has given us a horror novel that we will never forget.