FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Island of Dr. Moreau (1977)

Dangerous Adventures Make the 1977 Island of Dr. Moreau by Kristin Battestella

AIP’s 1977 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau directed by Don Taylor (Escape from the Planet of the Apes) pairs down the half man half animal mad science to its core themes with claustrophobic symbolism and strong performances anchoring the beastly adventures as shipwrecked Andrew Braddock (Michael York) is taken in by the isolated scientist Dr. Paul Moreau (Burt Lancaster). Also on the beautiful but dangerous island are Moreau’s enchanting adopted daughter Maria (Barbara Carrera) and his crusty assistant Montgomery (Nigel Davenport). Braddock, however, discovers there are more monstrous inhabitants – victims of Dr. Moreau’s twisted experiments – leading to a struggle of wills, abominations, and control.

The silent vast and empty blue ocean open The Island of Dr. Moreau with a tiny boat and one small, desperate survivor bearded and thirsty. Epic music mirrors the hope of this green, lush island oasis, but hanging vines, uneven terrain, and booby traps belie this paradise said to be one thousand miles from nowhere. Fenced in buildings with food, bedding, mosquito netting, books, and fresh clothing appear civilized, however dangerous animals are said to roam the island and one should never leave the compound after dark. Idyllic pets and pleasant races in the woods lead to strange sounds in the night and “muffled roaring.” Viewers think we see something amid the rustling leaves but we don’t know what. Hunched creatures, creepy servants drinking from puddles like animals, and more “special” types of people on this island are in need of Dr. Moreau’s care – and his laboratory is complete with a menagerie of wild cats, cages, and shackles. Rearing horses, chases, fear of the unknown, and unanswered questions are difficult for men who like to know and control all when exploring the natural or unnatural boundaries they should not. The once lovely island locales become increasingly congested environs as the external out of control science closes in on the body sacred thanks to serums, syringes, and surgery. Why would a doctor create such suffering animals now made partially people? Are the hairy inbetweens and experimentation in the name of science worth the loss of one’s morality? The civilized man must defend himself in caves where unwelcome, monstrous, man made creatures have their own laws – not to walk on all fours, not to eat flesh, no taking of life. Gunshots scare away fierce offenders, for these animals given speech and rules remain controlled through fear. Will these hybrids remember what humans told them to say and do if they regress to their innate ways? After all, to study nature, one has to be as remorseless as nature, which has its own sense of justice, selection, and violence to match our undeniable ability to destroy. Dangerous tiger attacks, mercy killings, and angry mobs with torches lead to blood and pain in well paced action as power devolves into anarchy. Although The Island of Dr. Moreau’s symbolism is apparent, the sentiment doesn’t hit the audience over the head thanks to a multi-layered cycle of man made monsters and men made gods.

Dr. Paul Moreau showed signs of brilliance in his youth and loves to converse about emerging technology, but Burt Lancaster’s (From Here to Eternity) extensive academic has been here in his own paradise for eleven years. His colleagues opposed his work, criticizing his theories on the nature of good and evil, to which even Moreau agrees he doesn’t have all the answers. Fortunately, he admires Braddock’s intelligence, explaining to him the need to help his fellow human beings by controlling all stages of life whilst also keeping him at the compound and withholding the details of his trial and error experiments to save mankind. Moreau thinks what he is doing is just – making his work all the more frightening when the results aren’t as he hoped. The doctor gets angry with his whip when his creations remain animalistic. He speaks to his subjects about the law from his rocky pulpit, lording over those punished in his house of pain with his white suit and halo-like hat almost as if Elmer Gantry turned to dastardly mad science. Moreau thinks he can tell an animal he is human and it will understand. He wants his flock to obey Braddock – Moreau needs a successor to continue his delivery of science from cruel butchery and dissection. However, Braddock is a man who doesn’t do what he’s told, and Moreau is determined to use his tough love science to prove Braddock’s true nature. Unfortunately, Moreau is threatened by his own cause, unaware his do as I say not as I do superiority does not give him reign over his creations. Formerly of The Lady Vain, the situation goes from bad to worse for Michael York’s (The Three Musketeers) rugged seaman Braddock. He’s curious about the island, reads, questions where everyone came from and if there are nearby places. He walks the coast and repairs his damaged boat – the audience is on his side as the handsome hero uncovers the askew science. Alas, Braddock is too inquisitive for his own good, in over his head and meddling where he shouldn’t. He must learn to abide by this island’s rules or he will be punished for his interference. Braddock becomes desperate to remember who he is and where he comes from in all this upside down, and The Island of Dr. Moreau is a fine two-hander between its leading men – father and son figures where the elder won’t get his way thanks to the new, stronger man. Though often sweaty and shirtless when proving his macho, Braddock becomes embarrassed by his animal instincts. Ultimately, he buttons up his clothes when these dire circumstances force him to show he can behave like a civilized man. Barbara Carrera’s (Never Say Never Again) stunning image of beauty Maria, however, answers only to Dr. Moreau’s commands. He raised her, and initially, she keeps her distance despite Braddock’s romantic interest. Although the tender, sensuous explorations are well done, viewers know we shouldn’t trust the frolicking strolls along the beach as she gives in to her passion. Carrera doesn’t really have a lot to do, but Maria’s an innocent young woman, a blank slate being shaped by her in the wrong father figure and a lover who would take her away from the island when she’s afraid to go. Nigel Davenport (A Man for All Seasons) as Dr. Moreau’s gruff assistant Montgomery also has less to do than in the novel, but his cryptic attitude adds to the sinister isle orchestrations. He tells Braddock to get over the shock of it all, for he sleeps better on this island than anywhere else. Ironically, this man who chooses to be subservient because he lacks humanity becomes a problem once he does show sympathy.

Safari hats, white linen suits, and lacy women’s frocks match The Island of Dr. Moreau’s turn of the century talk of fantastic flying machines and underwater vessels. Candlelight, lanterns, gramophones, longhand journals, leather volumes, and pistols add vintage to the emerging gear, telescopes, globes, and specimens in jars. Laboratory equipment, medical beds, and giant needles create disturbing science alongside creepy teeth, gross smiles, and distorted faces making the audience recoil. Granted, some of the animal make up is weak compared to contemporary designs – the noses, wild hair, and horns could be laughable but they are not thanks to the serious abomination implications. One red scarf becomes a symbolic bright spot in the otherwise earthy palette while foreboding shadows around the buildings instill fear thanks to the natural and unnatural sounds beyond the halos of seemingly civilized light at the compound. Pans over the mountains capture the divine Caribbean locales, but the point of view more often looks out the windows or in past the verandas as if the cameras themselves won’t leave this little oasis. Overhead spins parallel the disorienting jungle alongside well done chases and unseen monstrosities amid dangerous but beautiful bears and big cats in cages. Animal claws and growling effects set off disturbing mobs and vicious attacks before a fiery finale with blood on all hands accenting both the messianic savior visuals and Judas retribution hangings. While the classic horrifics and big performances make Charles Laughton’s 1932 adaptation Island of Lost Souls, the 1996 Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer version is a little too messy despite being more faithful to the novel than the excised bookends here. With its horses, weapons, upside down tone, ravishing brunette, intelligent spark, revealing pace, and primitive design; this Island of Dr. Moreau at times feels more like the original Planet of the Apes. Perhaps we are due for another fully realized Wells interpretation, however, I fear that today’s over reliance on CGI talking animals, motion capture special effects, and spectacle transformations would miss the point of the piece.

Even if such shock value isn’t as important as the scientific harbingers, the bitter parable with man meets beast violence here can still be uncomfortable for some audiences. This well known story of half animal, half human would also seem to get old eventually – audiences aren’t meant to be surprised anymore by the monstrous warnings of combining man and beast for one’s own gain. Nonetheless, The Island of Dr. Moreau remains a relevant conversation starter in today’s era of cloning, stem cells, and healthcare debates, and this well done adventure with fine performances is worth a fresh look.

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Odds and Dead Ends: Doctor Who’s Sci-fi – Horror Masterclass

When Doctor Who revived on March 26th, 2005, I was seven years old, a few months away from my eighth birthday. I was the perfect age to have my mind utterly blown by the galactic voyages, the heritage, the sets, the monsters; everything about it was just cool. Russell T. Davis’ era of Who was one of the things that made me the genre fan I am today. Now that I’m older, I look back on it and wonder which episodes, stories, stand out most. One day I will certainly do an article analyzing speech and identity in the Series 4 episode Midnight, an underrated gem of an episode. Blink gave me a phobia of statues for months, and I remember coming home from school pretending to be a Cyberman (complete with stomping sound effects) once the new incarnations came through in Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel.

Yet for me, the more I think on it, the more I affirm my beliefs that The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, episodes 8 and 9 of Series 2 respectively, are the best episodes of the show’s now 13, nearly 14 year, revival. A blend of cosmic horror, claustrophobic sci-fi thriller, and possession horror movie, this storyline is an immaculate blend of multiple genres, pushing the boundaries of Saturday-night family TV, which retains the ability to chill even the hardiest of adults. The Halloween special Waters of Mars was a very successful episode along a similar vein, but despite the claustrophobia in that episode, it doesn’t have the imagery, the scale, and grandeur, that comes with being stranded on a planet orbiting a black hole. This article is my attempt to analyze, decode, and understand just why this storyline is sci-fi/horror perfection, through the physical and emotional squeezing of the episode, and the theological darkness of The Beast.

 

Isolation

Sometimes horror tries to overload your senses with something vast and grand, such as the infinite size of the cosmos and the beyond, stuffed with elder gods and creatures unfathomable. This is most definitely the Lovecraft tradition of horror. One of the other approaches is to make the whole thing feel claustrophobic, and to put the pressure on the audience, tighter and tighter and tighter. This, perhaps, could be considered a Hitchcock tradition. The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit (which I will abbreviate as TIP or TSP throughout the rest of this article), manages through its sheer concept alone, to accomplish both a physical claustrophobia and tension, and a grand intellectual, mythological scope.

In TSP, a sequence sees Rose, Danny, Toby, and Jefferson, trapped in the vents underneath Sanctuary Base 6 being pursued by the possessed, murderous Ood. As if this isn’t bad enough, Captain Zachary has to manually shift the oxygen to them from each section of the tunnel each time they move on to the next section.

For me, this is the ultimate moment of claustrophobia in the two episodes, and it’s a careful appreciation of each turn of the screw (pun intended) that makes us feel so tense. Here’s my quick run-down of the beats up to this point that apply the pressure.

  1. The Tardis, the time-and-space ship, lands on a base, not feeling well. As The Doctor says, it’s like “‘she’s worried.’”
  2. The Doctor announces that they’ve arrived on a sanctuary base. The word ‘sanctuary’ implies a safe haven, but from what?
  3. ‘Welcome to Hell’ is scribbled on a wall, along with an indecipherable ancient language.
  4. After an earthquake, the revelation of their situation is made. The base is on a planet orbiting a black hole, held by a strange, unknown energy source that could plunge them into it at any moment.
  5. An earthquake plunges the Tardis into the depths of Kroptor, the planet. Their usual escape route has been lost.
  6. The base’s electronics, and Toby, come under the influence of The Beast.
  7. A hull breach loses one of the crew members, and they watch her drift up into the black hole. A constant reminder of mortality perched on the edge of the abyss.
  8. The Doctor and Iva descend down into the bowels of the planet in a small cable lift. The Doctor, the main intelligence and rationale of the galaxy, is physically distant from those above.
  9. The Ood become possessed; their translators changed into devices capable of electrocution.
  10. The Satan Pit opens down into a further unknown dark.
  11. The lift cable snaps, trapping The Doctor and Iva down below.
  12. Their electronic communication is temporarily stopped.
  13. With Ood all around, the crew have to shuffle through the underfloor ventilation tunnels to reach Ood habitation, the den of the things trying to kill them, in order to cut the possession of The Beast.
  14. Zachary, holed up in a room with Ood cutting their way in, has to manually, time-consumingly, shift their oxygen after them.
  15. The Ood are after them in the tunnels.

There are several aspects I’ve excluded for my later discussion on the Satan aspects, but it is easy to see even from this simple breakdown, how the episodes add layer upon layer of threat and danger. This sequence in the tunnels is perhaps only 2/3 of the way through the episodes’ total runtime, and there are sequences with danger in the rocket at the finale, but I believe the ventilation chase to be the best example of pressure-cooker isolation I’ve seen in Who.

In Doctor Who Confidential S2 E8, the set designers acknowledge Alien (1979) for inspiration in the base’s design. Indeed, the walkways are hemmed in by pillars that crowd the crew as they duck and scamper down the corridors. Similarly, the Nostromo’s corridors in Alien were designed so the actors had to crouch through the ship, complete with constant vents of steam and smoke from the walls that are also constantly shown in Sanctuary Base 6 coming from the floor. Far more than just the base, however, the civilisation in the interior of the planet also seems to have a touch of the Alien franchise about it, with the large sculptures something you’d find on board the Space Jockey’s ship. The abseil of The Doctor into the pit isn’t too dissimilar to Kane’s descent into the egg room. And you can’t watch the ventilation chase sequence without thinking of Dallas’ search through the Nostromo’s vents after the Xenomorph. This time, they can’t even see the threat as the Ood don’t register as life forms, and the opening of the final door to reveal the Ood there ready and waiting for them is so reminiscent of Dallas’ demise in Alien that you have to accept the homage.

Part of this story’s mastery, then, is of the sense of claustrophobia, of danger pressing in on you. Taking inspiration from its predecessors and finding new ways to tighten the vice, the whole scenario feels like you’re being slowly crushed. If the lack of air doesn’t get you, the Ood will. If they don’t, The Beast will plunge you into space. If he doesn’t do that, he’ll ensure the base doesn’t let you out. If that doesn’t happen, he’ll plunge you into the black hole. The noose gets tighter and tighter with each passing moment.

Satan Unbound

When, in TIP, the Doctor calculates the amount of energy needed to hold the planet in orbit around the black hole, he reels off a load of numbers, to which Rose replies, “‘all the sixes.’” Specifically, there are three of them. 666. The story deals with the iconography of Satan and a fairly unique discussion of language and communication to discuss the mere concept, the idea, and the horror, of the devil.

Perhaps the most obvious point of contact with this is the ancient language. The connection between this writing and an ancient evil are immediately apparent, with the ‘Welcome to Hell’ sign being scrawled above a copied passage of writing. That the planet they have arrived on is equated with Hell is subtly reinforced with several shots through doors and over shoulders, one such example being when Rose gets food from the Ood, where the ‘Hell’ on the sign is clearly visible.

The ancient language is also our main visual clue that Toby is possessed/himself. The writing jumps from the pottery to his hands, and later vanishes into the Ood. That this language is that of The Beast and not of the ancient civilisation is apparent from the pictures depicting the capture of The Beast down in the pit itself. These people used images, whereas The Beast uses words. Images exist purely in a visual form, whereas language can exist in visual or audible forms, or even touch if you think of Braille. This makes The Beast’s method of communication much more effective and potent for expanding throughout the universe, perpetuating his image throughout the countless civilisations.

That language is the myth-maker of The Beast’s choosing is made apparent when Ida discusses the planet’s name, spoken of only in scripture, and labelled as a demon when the Black Hole spat it back out. Not only is it through text that the story of the planet’s evil, and by extension its resident, perpetuated, but ‘scripture’ implies a religious text.

Despite a brief flash of The Beast on the hologram in the main hub, it is through words and speech that The Beast’s rising is foreshadowed. The computers announce that ‘He is awake,’ and Rose’s phone is hijacked to deliver the same message on a phone that can’t get a signal. Also, The Beast’s targets for possession are those with the closest links to language and words. Toby is an obvious choice because he is closest to the language as the archaeologist. However, the Ood are important thematically because they require the translators to communicate with their human masters. Before we get the hijacked message, the ‘we must feed’ interference and joke following TIP’s title sequence puts language at the forefront of the terror.

These translators are important not only for The Beast to use as weapons (language being used to kill and carry ideas of death), but it is also through the Ood that we get our longest pre-possession hints, “‘The Beast and his armies shall rise from The Pit to make war against God’”, and the lengthy discussion with The Doctor. The concepts of The Beast and his mythic perpetuation through language and words are inescapable. Language is how we view, understand, and construct the world around us, and that The Beast would use this as a means to attack us is perhaps more terrifying than anything else.

The Doctor’s incredulity and vehement rejection of the idea that The Beast can have existed before the universe is little relief for the audience, for The Beast knows so much that he can’t know. He sees into the minds of all the crew, and even predicts Rose’s future several episodes later. This complete knowledge of all, traversing the realms of possibility, puts the possibility of The Doctor being wrong into question. Is he right that The Beast is lying? After all, one of the names for Satan is ‘The Father of Lies.’ On the other hand, everything The Beast has said occurs in actuality, so who is to say he is wrong? That something is impossible isn’t an issue for The Beast; The Doctor describes his language as being ‘impossibly old’ upon first seeing it.

And then, in the final scenes, we have possessed-Toby’s ravings that the idea of him (The Beast) will always live on, despite being launched into the black hole, lingers, ‘I shall never die. The thought of me is forever.’ The Doctor himself says that ‘an idea is hard to kill’. The Beast’s final words that ‘nothing shall ever destroy me. Nothing’, hang in the air long after the episode concludes. In addition to this damning statement, The Doctor comes away with no conclusions as to what he believes he found, ‘I don’t know, I never did find out.’ We are left none the wiser. After escaping possessed aliens sent by a Satanic beast, who claims to have been from beyond time and space, eternal and forever in the hearts of men, and managing to escape the snatching jaws of a black hole, a horror still resonates. The idea of evil will never be killed. They don’t defeat evil in the end, they just manage to escape its wrath a little longer.

 

Conclusion

Sometimes, when it gets it just right, Doctor Who manages to push all the right buttons. In an impossible situation, isolated and trapped, claustrophobic, yet opening up the theological, philosophical, and personal horrors of belief, thought and language, these two episodes deliver a truly captivating, yet terrifying 90 minutes of television. Ignore what anyone says; this episode arc is the most horrifying, devastating, and yet hauntingly beautiful storyline the show has had in its revival.

Article by Kieran Judge

You can now follow him on Twitter at @KJudgeMental

Chilling Chat Episode 162 Mary Turzillo

chillingchat

Mary Turzillo’s latest novel is Mars Girls, Apex 2017.  Her Nebula-winner, “Mars Is no Place for Children” and her Analog novel, An Old-Fashioned Martian Girl, are read on themary International Space Station. Her poem, Lovers & Killers, won the 2013 Elgin Award. She has been a finalist on the British Science Fiction, Stoker, Dwarf Stars, Nebula, and Rhysling ballots. Sweet Poison, with Marge Simon, was a Stoker finalist and won the 2015 Elgin Award. Satan’s Sweethearts, also with Simon, came out in 2016.  She lives in Ohio USA, with her scientist-writer husband, Geoffrey Landis. She represented the US in the World Veterans Cup in foil fencing in 2016.

Mary is a brilliant and witty woman. We spoke of history, writing, and the nature of evil.

 NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, Mary! Thank you for chatting with me today.

MT: I am so flattered to be asked!

NTK: You are, primarily, a Science Fiction author. How did you get involved in writing Satan’s Sweethearts?

MT: That’s really two questions. I’m a science fiction writer who has these little dark twinges in my fiction. I just can’t help it. A guy is stuck in a prison on Mars, trying to stop a biological catastrophe, and suddenly he’s being chased by an eight-foot-tall sex doll. Somehow that just popped into the story. I think I’m a natural horror writer who has a science-fiction worldview. As to how I got into writing Satan’s Sweethearts, Marge Simon and I know each other from still another world: she was a high muckety-muck in the small press world. And of course a genius poet besides the horror work. So, I knew her name and was delighted to actually meet her. We clicked right away and started writing poems back and forth to one another. At first it was humor stuff, like her poem about a gay dragon who prefers knights to maidens. Then we wrote some poems about evil cats. Eventually, Marge and I decided on doing more serious work and we did Sweet Poison together. That evolved into explorations of women murderers and torturers and other offenders. Marge has one poem that is so dark I shudder every time I even think about it, about a slave-holder, obviously a psychopath, who used her helpless slaves as targets for horrendous experiments and disembowelings. We felt the world needed to know that women are not all angels, that in addition to “Me, too” there were also men and women who were abused and murdered by powerful or insane women. (“Delphine LeLaurie’s Upstairs Room” is the poem I’m thinking of, by the way.)

NTK: So, you’re a horror writer at heart? What got you interested in horror?

MT: I suppose early reading: Poe, History of World War II, The Conquest of Mexico.

And, my mother had a very dark imagination.

NTK: Was she your first influence?

MT: Well, she did buy that complete collection of Poe stories and poems for me, so, yes, definitely an early influence.

NTK: How did you like collaborating with Marge on Satan’s Sweethearts?

MT: It was fun, and it was scary. Marge is a genius. I asked her once how many poems she had published, and she said she had completely lost track, that’s how many there were. Marge has a dark sense of humor, and we would get into it about some of the evil babes we were writing about. Sometimes both of us felt the poems were giving us nightmares. But it was all about truth, about the true nature of human beings, and we had to persevere. We developed a close friendship through this project. Very much in tune with each other’s fears and hopes and sense of humor.

NTK: Do you think humans are more frightening than any supernatural entity? Do you tend to write about the darkness in the human soul?

MT: Hmmmm. “More frightening than any supernatural entity.” What a question! I think most, if not all, of the supernatural entities in horror fiction, poetry, and cinema are extrapolations of stuff that human beings have inside their imaginations. Two things that astonish me: 1) how could a Jeffrey Dahmer walk among us? For that matter, how could a Delphine Lalaurie have lived a civilized life with nobody suspecting her evil actions? 2) How do we, ourselves, and I mean myself, come up with these horrific ideas—and yet be noble enough not to act on them? Women are seen as being lesser offenders, but I think it’s not because they are more civilized, but because they are more skilled at hiding their evil. Take the “baby farmers” that Marge and I wrote about (Amelia Dyer, for one). They took on infants pretending to do day-care for working mothers, and then summarily killed the babies, and sometimes with great pleasure, as with Dyer’s enjoyment watching children die as she slowly strangled them with tape. Yes, I know, we have the Golden State Killer, but actually his tally is LESS than Amelia Dyer’s. I think we tend to think about her murders as “oh, well, the mothers were just low-class working girls, maybe even prostitutes.” Hello? These baby farmers (and Amelia was only one) were SERIAL KILLERS with kill-scores of the magnitude of Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy. Babies are totally helpless. Bundy’s and Gacy’s victims fought back.

NTK: Do you think it’s easier for these women to get away with crimes because of their social status? Or because no one believes a woman would do such things?

Satan's SweetheartsMT: Oh, Marge and I talked and talked about that. Some women got away with it because of social status—Delphine is one example. Some got away with it because they had political or gang-related power. Bloody Mary and Queen Ranavalona were the supreme authority in their countries. I don’t know how Ranavalona is regarded by historians, but she was basically a serial killer supported by her country’s laws. Then take one “heroine” that many people think is wonderful because she was a female ruler in a time when women did not become Empresses: Wu Zetian. She killed her own baby in order to keep her position. Good lord. Another favorite example of mine is Ching Shih, the female pirate. The poem is called “The Sister.” Oh, and it’s really noble to be a pirate? She nailed men’s feet to the deck for fornication. She tied cannon balls to the legs of women who “strayed,” despite the fact that she had started life as a prostitute.

Shall I continue with examples of “how they got away with it”? For one, they preyed on children, as with Enriqueta Marti (“Mother Marti”) whose deaths often weren’t investigated.

We tried to find women who hadn’t been as much in the news, and we also tried to give a fresh perspective on their activities. We found that sometimes actions that would have been considered evil if done by a man were “heroic” if by a woman.

NTK: They preyed on the helpless. That’s really frightening. Who do you think the worst villainess is in Satan’s Sweethearts?

MT: The worst villainess? Oh man! Aileen Wuornos was a baddy, but I think she was of diminished intelligence. Of course Delphine was one of the most horrific. I guess I might settle on Ilse Koch, the “Red Witch of Buchenwald.” She was the one who wanted the skins of victims so she could make pretty lampshades out of them. Heaven help us. The Jewish religion frowns on tattoos, so maybe some Jewish people were spared that final indignity (although they probably still died).

NTK: Going back to your writing, where do you get your ideas? Do they come from dreams? Or is the door to your unconscious mind cracked open allowing the darkness to slip in?

MT: I don’t know so much about how Marge gets her ideas, but mine come from reading. I should mention that my sister, Jane Turzillo, is an author of historical non-fiction and several of her books focus on women offenders: Wicked Women of Ohio from the History Press.

NTK: When you write a character, how much control do you exert over said character? Do they have free will?

MT: Do [my] characters have free will? I know there are brain malfunctions that cause people to do awful things. Mary Ann Cotton, who poisoned twelve of her babies, might have pleaded post-partum depression. But no. I think we have free will. We think horrible things. We don’t have to act on them.

NTK: Is Poe your favorite author? Who is your favorite horror author?

MT: Stephen King and, a close rival, Joe Hill. They not only terrify, they also have an underlying message about the nobility of the human soul. I think that’s necessary to horror. Aristotle said “pity and terror.” Without the pity (and maybe hope), horror is just a road to depression, insanity, suicide. I like Peter Straub for the same reason.

NTK: Do you have any favorite horror television shows? Any favorite horror movies?

MT: Movie: an old favorite of mine is SCANNERS, with (spoiler alert) the exploding head scene. Some Dr. Who episodes are horrific enough. TV? Not sure. In the old days (three years ago, maybe?) the really scary stuff wasn’t so much an element. I haven’t kept up with TV enough to know what’s good now. I love Game of Thrones, but that’s not really horror. Oh, I guess it has some horror elements, the Wildings, the decapitations etc., but it’s really SF/fantasy, with the emphasis on fantasy. And lots of sex.

NTK: Mary, why do you think humans create monsters in literature? Why do you think Dracula, Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde exist?

MT: Naching, no matter what age we live in, the Middle Ages, prehistory, the Holocaust, the present day, the world is scary. Your best friend can die at any time. You get in a car bonsai babies screen.jpgand you could be dead 50 minutes later. You see a pink ribbon and immediately worry about that last mammogram. Our parents died. Hell, my son died! Nothing can protect us from war, disease, accidents, serial killers, drive-by shootings, poisoned lettuce (seriously, who saw THAT coming?). So we need to make sense of the world. In horror fiction, bad things have causes. So we think, Oh, he died because a malignant alien lived in his microwave (By the way, a Nebula winner had this premise). “But I don’t have a microwave, so I’m safe.” Or we think, “We all die, but there is reincarnation, or heaven, or at least a meaning to our life, or even just a cessation of pain.” It’s the human condition. Aristotle said tragedy provided catharsis. (And Greek tragedy was pretty horrific, what with eye-gouging, father killing, hunting for the body of your fiancé in a dung heap.) We need to make sense of the fear and the horror and pain. If nothing else we know that others have suffered and either survived or left a legacy.

NTK: Mary, what does the future hold for you? What works do Horror Addicts have to look forward to?

MT: I’m working on something a little sunnier right now. This girl is a high school fencing competitor, but every time she does a flying attack called a fleche, she time travels to one of Jupiter’s moons—five billion years in the future. One of the leading characters is a giant cat who becomes her mentor. No horror in it. Or at least, not much. Knowing me, the horror will suddenly pop up.

NTK: Awesome! And, speaking of fencing? You compete, don’t you? Could you tell the Addicts about that?

MT: It was sort of a reaction to my son’s death. He was very interested in swords and sword fighting. I’ve always wanted to fence, so I took it up. I get my nasty urges out in it. It’s very aggressive. You stab people. Oh, they’re wearing protective gear, but still! You STAB people. Talk about the evil in people’s souls. By the way, I was at one time the 6th best foil fencer in my age category in the US. (Now, I’ve dropped down to number 11.) I also represented the US in fencing in my category in a World Cup in Germany two years ago. My husband fences, too. I get to stab him sometimes. And vice versa.

NTK: Your husband is a writer too. Does he enjoy your darker works?

MT: I hope so. He has to live with me, no matter what he really thinks. I so far haven’t written anything that actually scares him. I’m still trying.

NTK: As you know, season 13 of HorrorAddicts is CURSED! Do you have a favorite curse? If so, what is it?

MT: Let me think…hmmmm. Sometimes, I tell telephone solicitors that I’m a voudou adept and that parts of their bodies will fall off with every minute they stay on the phone with me. Who knows? Maybe it actually works. My favorite verbal curse is “Shitfire!” Got that from my sister.

NTK: (Laughs.) Those are great curses. Thank you so much for chatting with me, Mary. It’s been an honor and a pleasure.

MT: The honor and pleasure are all mine! Thank you SO MUCH!

Addicts, you can find Mary’s work on Amazon.

Satan’s Sweethearts took second place in the Full-Length Book Category of the Elgin Awards on September 21, 2018.

FRIGHTENING FLIX by Kbatz – Kong: Skull Island

Despite Narrative Flaws, Kong: Skull Island is a Rip Roaring Good Time

by Kristin Battestella

 

Without a doubt the 2017 MonsterVerse cum 2014 Godzilla prequel Kong: Skull Island has its flaws. One shouldn’t expect perfection or deep thoughts with this fun jungle ride brimming with action and big monsters. But heck yeah let’s over-analyze the shit out of it, shall we?

Bill Randa (John Goodman) recruits ex-SAS tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) to join the secret government group Monarch’s expedition to the elusive Skull Island alongside Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard’s (Samuel L. Jackson) elite helicopter escort. Landsat officials and mission science teams use seismic charges to map and study the island – awakening ancient monsters friend and foe, government conspiracies, and personal vengeance as the team rescues crashed World War II veteran Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) from the fantastic isle protected by King Kong.

 

Kong: Skull Island’s opening World War II crash transitions to newspapers, archive footage, and period photography on the mysterious Monarch organization as audio quotes from Truman and Kennedy lead to bleak 1973 DC protests and ironic quips about the screwed up time in Washington. Monarch needs funding to mount this satellite mapping expedition and its under the rug search amid ominous whispers of ship eating monsters and Bermuda Triangle fantastics surrounding this uncharted Pacific island. Fiery explosives reflect in the aviator glasses, animals flee the seismic bombs, and distorted music is drowned out by the destruction. People who think they are so big are made small by Kong’s giant hands and teeth – an excellent introduction with superb monster graphics and motion capture. Warped gunfire and thumping helicopter blades add foreboding to the mighty monster silhouettes as separated civilians, stranded scientists, and angry military argue who takes orders from whom. Nixon winks, geek references, and “Hold on to your butts!” keeps the old school cool coming early and often alongside minute to minute action montages with diegetic classic rock, first person shooter video game angles, and intriguing camera shots. Skull Island is an embarrassment of riches with too much to see in one viewing thanks to wild giant spider impalements and more well done personal horror vignettes with blood, gore, and brain splatter nods to Cannibal Holocaust and Evil Dead. Slow motion over the shoulder fears, creaking animal approaches, that giant log come to life – aren’t walking sticks bad enough?! The rush to repair a salvaged airplane turned riverboat adds more flying monsters and aerial fatalities to the adventure. Kong is an angry mother, but he didn’t do anything wrong in protecting his home from the dangerous creatures man has stirred, and the mission only has its bombing in the name of science to blame. Fortunately, culture shock jokes create lighthearted fun, since it’s more of a cold war with summers off, a man on the moon is eating Spam after sipping Tang, and The Cubs are never going to win the World Series. Likewise the excellent graveyard sequence combines all Skull Island’s divided and united people with scene stealing visuals, action, and monsters. Retro picture flashes and rewind clicks accent gritty zooms and intense monster filming with green gas heightening the sense of smelly vomit, skulls, bones, and gas masks. Deadly cigarettes, flames, lighters, and fumes add to the swords and machine guns poised atop the triceratops skull as man comes to regret the cruel and violent destruction he has caused.

Of course, Skull Island is also a very messy movie with an uneven dual focus. This should be either a Vietnam, horrors of war, military monster Apocalypse Now with a photographer and a scientist OR the scientific monstrosity adventure a la Jurassic Park with one ex-SAS tracker but not BOTH plots giving nobody their fair share. The us versus them scientists in blue and military in green sitting on opposite sides of the briefing is never capitalized upon but redundantly introduces everyone by name after the port of call arrivals already suffice. Likewise, conflicting, convoluted information dumps on hollow earth inklings, monsters exist proof, nature taking back the planet subtext, and more conspiracies are lost amid who’s doing the suspicious underground mapping or using dangerous seismic charges – and none of it is as important as the visual destruction despite precious little time to enjoy the awe-inspiring views. Increasingly intrusive hip highlights and filler montages distract viewers with busy, loud hyperbole, and fine jokes aren’t needed to alleviate tension because intercutting between separated characters walking to and fro for action fodder never leaves the audience with anyone long enough to appreciate their peril. Casual wonder, superficial dear family letters, and featherweight Icarus speeches can’t keep up with the up up up piecemeal quest, soldiers rightfully spazzing over the giant monkey are paid dust in favor of repeated clicks west or evac north fluff, and one trek in the wrong direction for a dead man proves pointless on top of unnecessary revenge. What should be somber shipwreck history and ancient monster worship become tossed aside double talk, and the science dialogue, monsters, and mission objectives change as people act stupid from scene to scene as needed. Littering the narrative with so many excuses that we just don’t care how each group of people and their monster attacks tie together is incredibly annoying because there is so much more potential to the friend or foe ominous and native people glossed over with photos and peace signs. Slo mo hold me back man tears turn laughable thanks to all over the place point of view voiceovers with no time for a breather properly addressing the nonsensical. Quotes about an enemy not existing until you make one get squashed between more meandering, on the nose rock montages while blow torches are convenient in one scene but forgotten the next. Our two women never talk to each other, and Skull Island can’t stick to telling its story well because it’s so desperate to appeal to as many bang for its buck viewers as possible – leaving the World War II radiation and ancient cave paintings hodgepodge to do nothing but set up the inevitable sequel.

 

All the people should have been listed in the blurb at the bottom of the Skull Island poster because no one character is fully developed – least of all top billed Tom Hiddleston as tracker James Conrad, who spends more time giving repetitive exposition on clicks, radius, or distance and unnecessary let’s go, no time to waste obviousness. It’s also noticeable that the character concept was changed when T. Hiddy was cast – perhaps in a Legendary twofer contract with Crimson Peak or during filming, for the grimy shirt jaded and gritty bearded wanderer is traded for a sunshine blonde matinee idol buff. It’s like a different guy shows up for the mission! When meeting Conrad in the bar, he’s ruthless with a cue stick. However, on the island, he’s the team negotiator, going from a rugged bad ass asking for five times the mercenary money to…Tom Hiddleston. Viewers see him as himself in Skull Island and The Night Manager rather than his Loki visage – maybe because it looks like he’s wearing his own clothes again onscreen – but someone should have been in charge of his eye candy fitness as his increasing muscles or shrinking wet shirt vary throughout the adventure. The mysteriously decommissioned tracker also suddenly cares, sneaking into restricted areas to check out the bombs and question the mission even though Conrad never gets to use this seemingly new found good guy muster. His great line, “I suppose no man comes home from war, not really,” and brief mentions of his lost father – Tom, please, no more characters with daddy issues! – go unredeemed save for dad’s handy lighter to rectify a lifetime of searching for something you can never find. Instead of calm, problem solving Conrad challenging Packard, our expert tracker gets lost and seeks higher ground before taking charge anyway after useless self sacrifices. Despite his name, there’s very little Heart of Darkness to Conrad, yet the character remains overly serious and that divine accent feels out of place – taking longer and prettier to say his exposition in a different, formal rhythm amid all the fast, casual slang. Although he has the best gas mask glory moment in Skull Island and some of the samurai choreography is reminiscent of the first advance in 300, our would be hero has no winking Indiana Jones moment nor does he take off his shirt. Why hold back when you can go all the way? But hey, those biceps aren’t enough to forgive the fact that Conrad wears a gun in a shoulder holster and never uses it!

With our rugged man and Brie Larson (Room) as anti-war photographer Mason Weaver, Skull Island feels very The People That Time Forgot. However, Weaver doesn’t cry out for her camera’s safety or click away as much as she perhaps should. She never runs out of film and such gear perils or mishaps could have been an ongoing gag, but Conrad seems to look out for her camera more than she does. There is rightfully no overt romantic plot further crowding Skull Island with unnecessary saccharin, yet their feeling each other out banter should have been utilized more – Weaver interrupts Conrad’s hero zoom by motioning for him to move over on the helicopter seat and he does. All these charming, award winning thespians have so little room to breath, leaving Weaver with lame one liners and nothing to do. The “Bitch, please!” retort for her to have several seats isn’t the right response, but her trite platitudes won’t get all these macho men pointing guns at each other to stand down either. Fortunately, her outfit isn’t uber skimpy, and Larson’s modern earthy look is perhaps the most seventies style in the cast. Weaver goes from skeptical equals Pulitzer to island believer saving injured animals too quickly with no depth to her island connections if any before ending by saying she will expose their information rather than keep this precious ecosystem secret. She could have been a hippie tree hugging activist woman alone in tune for peace with Kong, but Weaver’s touching moments with the ape are too few and far between. Whether there is some kind of native spirit and island good to counter the evil creatures below isn’t explored, and while all the scientists pick up guns, Weaver shoots with her camera only – a nice statement that just leads to her getting rescued by Conrad in every dangerous situation. A brief moment of her refusing a gun and more of her resourceful ingenuity as with Conrad’s handy lighter would have added better character strength and humor. Sadly, Skull Island has both Weaver taking pictures to expose Monarch and John Goodman’s (The Big Lebowski) underutilized Bill Randa recording film for his secret organization’s posterity. What is the point of having both such rival documentarians on the trip when they never even have the chance to object to each other onscreen?

 

But why you gotta be mean like that to Kong, Nick Fury? Despite the Vietnam withdrawals underway and orders to head home, Samuel L. Jackson’s Colonel Packard isn’t ready for the war to end. He wonders what this the fight was all for – accepting this final mission without considering the families and day jobs waiting for his Sky Devils stateside. Packard resents the camera and the media’s influence on the war as more dangerous than a gun, and objects to calling the battle lost. He’s upset at Kong for destroying his helicopter team, blaming the ape and demanding payback when he’s the one who ordered them to fly through the island’s nonsensical storm front. There’s room for more psyche, but other plot contrivances compromise Packard’s fanatical. His insistence on taking out Kong instead of the more deadly skull creature continues even when his reason for pursuing one over the other is proven more fatal, and Packard gets around the island just fine without the obligatory SAS tracker, gutting any tension the two are apparently supposed to have. After aimlessly walking for half of Skull Island, Packard needlessly divides the group when they actually come together, and any deeper hates the monster because he hates himself guilt about man’s supposed superiority is never fully explored. Certainly the Lieutenant Colonel did nothing wrong in ordering his men and defending his homeland from the horrors of war, but he takes the extinguishing the wrong monster too far and doesn’t learn from any of the mission’s bureaucratic stupidity, ultimately using napalm to flush out more creatures than he can handle. Likewise his soldiers – family man macguffin Toby Kebbell (Control), headband wearing Thomas Mann (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), and letters to his mama Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton) don’t listen to local information on avoiding island perils. At once they decide it’s all for one and one for all while telling others they will be left behind if they don’t like the plan, and none of them go against the Colonel even when he is wrong and the chain of command has broken. Although dead pan Shea Whigham (Boardwalk Empire) eating in the face of giant apes is good levity, the too crowded Skull Island keeps these military men stereotypically hip with shirtless photo sessions and no questions asked until after the fact rather than developing any killer edge e.g. Predator.

There are simply so, so, so many superfluous people in Skull Island that you can argue almost anyone doesn’t really need to be here. Landsat fraidy cat John Ortiz (Fast & Furious) deserves more than ticking the Hispanic check box with his own personal homage to Jurassic World. This looks like a diverse ensemble with representation from all walks of life, but it isn’t diversity if each monster fodder minority has five cliché lines while the white people save the day. Geologist Corey Hawkins (24: Legacy) and biologist Jing Tian (The Great Wall) look like they filmed their scenes separately from everyone else. Their brief conversations happen with no one else around and they don’t really interact with anybody on the island – simultaneously missing the opportunity for statements on the struggles of a well educated black man with a radical theory while nonetheless desperate to appeal to Asian markets with an intelligent but meek biologist who barely speaks. Hawkins’ Houston Brooks objects to the titular craziness with almost the exact same words as Mann’s Slivko, and eventually, the scientists are told to go back to the boat – which they easily find and operate without Conrad holding their hands. The post-credits scene likewise has them repeating Randa’s words on the monsters to come while again telling us not much of anything on Monarch’s intentions. Fortunately, John C. Reilly’s (Chicago) kooky World War II castaway Hank Marlow is the most dynamic character in Skull Island. He’s happy these new found people are real because he’s more than ready to get home to beer, hot dogs, and the Chicago Cubs, becoming the only fish out of water in this crazy habitat that receives any narrative payoff. I also dare say Marlow’s opening cross cultural duel turned bond with Japanese singer Miyavi as Gunpei Ikari and their subsequent hear tell eight attempts to leave the island during their forced twenty-eight year sabbatical may have been the more dramatically interesting tale – “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra” and all that.

 

Fine gunfire, brief World War II designs, aerial action, and impressive photography also pepper Skull Island. A variety of cool ships accent the beautiful, tropical, misty, hot locations from Hawaii, Australia, and Vietnam amid lovely waters, deadly swamps, and killer jungles keeping everyone good and sweaty. There are dangerous rocks, mountains, vegetation, and animals, too – but that giant water buffalo thing has a cute nose! Unique patinas, golden sunsets, neon, bright blues, red lighting, and choice zooms set off every frame in Skull Island, and a fiery haze makes the night time battle with Kong befitting of the island’s devilish face shape. However, despite all the old school touches, Skull Island doesn’t feel as aged as it could be. A 1973 Life Magazine and a record player don’t a la the past when everybody looks so today. The money here is rightfully spent on the badass ape kids will dig, but younger audiences probably won’t notice the early computers, retro televisions, dark room photography, old reel frames, slide projectors, or rotary phones and period references. Fortunately, these creatures are so big that director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer) must pull the camera back – we can see the well choreographed rumble without hiding behind panoramic swoops and hectic editing. Kong breaking free from a shipwreck’s chains is a fine homage, and the deleted scenes with more platoon camaraderie and a bristling introduction between Conrad and Packard should have been kept. Of course, Skull Island is available in different video editions with seller and regional behind the scenes exclusives. An official comic book also continues the adventure, but I wish the background material or what happens next wasn’t relegated to extras or waiting on another picture in the franchise. Although, ironically, Skull Island might have made a great limited television series with fulfilled episodes dedicated to our mad military man, lost tracker, photographer, castaway, or scorned scientists.

Kong:Skull Island seems like it began with storyboards of cool things for Kong and company to do with everything else as filler to meet the feature length duration. There’s no time to stay on Skull Island and explore its myths or monsters, and this does indeed feel like one mere stepping stone toward the inevitable Godzilla vs. Kong anticipation in 2020 thanks to postscript MonsterVerse revelations. Though entertaining, the forties bookends are abrupt and in between viewers are spoiled for choice of eye candy. Skull Island is meant to be a monster money maker and it shows with this sweet but shallow action. It wants to be man versus man, man versus nature, and man versus himself, but superficially potlucks all the deep possibilities. Thankfully, Skull Island is not a film meant for critical eyes and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Despite its narrative flaws, there’s just so much fan service that Kong: Skull Island was bound to be an enjoyable success.

 

Author Interviews at the Mount Holly Book Fair Part 2

 

Witches, Time Travel, and Shapeshifters!

 

Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz was on the windy scene April 29, 2018 at the Mount Holly Book Fair to interview several Local Horror Authors…

 

Author JL Brown talks about her book The Burning Arbor, witches, tarot, and magic on and off the page. For more visit https://www.facebook.com/AuthorJLBrown/

 

 

Author Gary Frank talks about his book Forever will you Suffer, short fiction versus novels, time travel, the business of writing, and horror. For more visit http://authorgaryfrank.com/

 

 

Native American Storyteller Laura Kaign chats about her Earth Child series, science fiction, natural versus supernatural, dreams, YA, and storytelling. For more visit http://ladyhawkestorytelling.com

 

 

Special Thanks to the Mill Race Arts & Preservation for hosting The Mount Holly Book Fair.

 

Stayed tuned to HorrorAddicts.net for more Author Interviews and let us know what kind of video/media content you would like to see!

Jeff Carlson, Never to be Forgotten

One of our frequent authors and a man many of us had the pleasure to know in life, has passed on. Jeff Carlson, author of the Plague Year Series and Frozen Sky, died Monday, July 17th from an extremely aggressive lung cancer. He is survived by his wife and two sons, who he adored.

Jeff was an excellent writer and had an exuberant thirst for life. We here at HorrorAddicts.net would like to express our sincerest sympathies to his friends and family by celebrating what enjoyment Jeff brought to our lives through his writing.

About Horror, Jeff said,

We like to be scared because we have a huge capacity for fear. The most basic element of storytelling is conflict because we respond to it.

With four features on HorrorAddicts.net and tons of cameos and book reviews, Jeff is one of the most frequent guests on the podcast. He won our Best in Blood award for season one with his story “Monsters” and continued to be a driving force in the show.

Since meeting Jeff at BayCon in the early 2000’s, I followed his career, attending many of his book parties and enjoying his live readings. His books Plague Year, Plague War, and Plague Zone came at a time when readers were craving survival fiction, before The Walking Dead saturated the market.

The Plague Year series started with a bang and just kept going. Jeff was able to bring our world to the brink of destruction in such a real way, it almost seemed like you were listening to news reports rather than reading a fictional thriller.

In Plague War, the non-stop thriller action doesn’t stop. There were so many layers to this book. You had the survival instinct unwilling to die in the main characters, the war between countries grasping at straws to maintain control, and a zombie apocalypse that actually seemed plausible.

Plague Zone‘s zombies weren’t the George Romero, searching for brains type. They were more subtle, but not less scary. The first scene with the zombie people (people they knew!) being kept in the hut in case they could save them was almost unbearable. I could just hear the bumping and moaning as they struggled against restraints. Ruth’s claustrophobia was contagious and I found myself having to step outside to get some air.

This series was a crazy-fast rollercoaster ride through a nanotech infested world where only one thing guarantees your survival—your will to carry on no matter what. Through Jeff’s writing, he inspired us to overcome surmountable odds, keep true to the loyalty we’ve fostered with other humans, and to never, ever give up.

HorrorAddicts.net Reviewer, David Watson says,

I makes me sad to hear of the passing of Jeff Carlson and my heart goes out to his family in this terrible time. I didn’t know Jeff personally but I talked with him through emails and he was always friendly. The first time I heard of Jeff was when he read his story “Monsters” on the HorrorAddicts.net podcast. In 2015 I was the editor of Horror Addicts Guide to Life in which he wrote an essay called, ‘Why I Write Post-Apocalyptic Fiction.’

One idea Jeff wrote about in the author’s note for his book Frozen Sky 3: Blindsided, was how true happiness in life doesn’t come from slacking off, it comes from working hard and accomplishments. Jeff worked hard at his craft and it shows in the success he had as a writer. I love his work and reviewed four of his books, including his anthology Long Eyes which is a perfect introduction to his awesome storytelling abilities. My favorite work of Jeff’s sets horror in outer space with his Frozen Sky series where he masterfully combined action, horror, science fiction, philosophy and politics. It makes me sad to know that I won’t get to read another new book by Jeff Carlson but at least he left behind eight great books and several short stories that we can all reread and remember him by.

Fellow HorrorAddicts.net author, J. Malcolm Stewart says,

I first met Jeff Carlson in 2011 at Westercon 64 and immediately knew I had found a kindred soul. We were on a panel called Horror Tropes as Social Commentary, which, if you know me, was a subject near and dear to my bloody, beating heart. We had a blast that afternoon and quickly exchanged contact info with the usual good intentions to catch up in the near future.

I didn’t pay too much mind to the promise, figuring the gesture on Jeff’s part was a case of throw-away professional politeness. He was a well-known, well-respected, past winner of Writers of the Future, had been nominated for a Phillip K. Dick award, and his Plague Zone series of novels had spent weeks on the New York Times Best-Seller list. I was a complete unknown who was six months away from my first novel even being published.

But a strange twist, one worthy of Hitchcock himself, happened… Jeff did call and he did email, just as he had promised. And from that time on I was blessed to experience one of the great professional friendships of my adult life.

Jeff was many things in his far-to-brief 48 years. Among the crowd of his attributes was his sheer writing talent, his engaging personality, his keen and probing mind, his oft displayed sense of humor… But the greatest attribute I ever observed about Jeff Carlson was his constant and unwavering love and dedication to his family.

I say with no hyperbole that every conversation I ever had with him, no matter how long or short, ended with either “I gotta go. It’s date night.” or “Gotta get to the soccer game. I’ll catch you soon.” I can’t express this strongly enough. Every time without fail.

I know directly that Jeff bypassed many promotional opportunities at cons or book signings to make sure he had time with his wife and kids. As a result, he wasn’t the most visible author in the Northern California writing scene. But as writer and person, he was without a doubt one of the most respected.

I am personally privileged that our time together included over eight hours of recorded interviews conducted over these last six years. I knew instantly that those conversations were gold to any writer who aspired to learn in the ins and outs of this insane profession. Sadly, I didn’t know that they would come to an end so quickly.

As both a creative artist and in my professional life, I often have found myself grappling with the finality of death. It’s an inescapable part of the human condition, a principle of existence both devastating in its scope and humbling in its randomness. Like many who knew him, I’m still processing the fact that shadowy hand of fate has taken away Jeff. But what I can say with all certainty is that Grim Titan who stalks us all has taken into his company one our best and brightest.

To his wife, Diana and their two boys, my deepest and most sincere condolences.

It’s amazing to me that so many of us felt we had a special, meaningful relationship with Jeff, but he made sure we did. He was a genuine guy and when he said he’d connect with you, he really meant it. Despite his busy career, he always made time for his friends and family.

Horror Addicts Guide to Life

In our 2015 anthology, Horror Addicts Guide to Life, Jeff said,

I think we’re programmed for hardship. In my experience, human beings are happiest when they’re working themselves to the bone. Call me crazy, but from what I’ve seen, people are more likely to feel adrift and unsatisfied when they have too much leisure time. Purpose is the greatest gift. Obstacles are good.

Well, Jeff, we suppose you are right, but getting over your loss will not be so easy. You will always be in our hearts and minds.


Listen to Jeff’s work here:

Ep: #1 with his short story “Monsters”

Ep #20 with his story “Romance”

Ep #27 with is story “Caninus”

Ep# 51 with his story “Pattern Masters”

Read more about Jeff in our blogs here:

https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2010/11/23/13-questions-with-jeff-carlson/

https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/a-jeff-carlson-double-header/

https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2010/09/21/jeff-carlson-on-post-apocalyptic-fiction/

https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/the-frozen-sky/

https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2014/07/24/frozen-sky-2-betrayed-by-jeff-carlson/

https://theallnightlibrary.wordpress.com/2016/07/10/frozen-sky-blindsided-the-europa-series-book-3/

Visit his own site for more information on these works at: http://www.jverse.com/

Kbatz: Victor Frankenstein (2015)

 

Latest Victor Frankenstein Unfortunately Disappointing

by Kristin Battestella

 

I had hoped Gothic dramatizations and Victorian horror were making a comeback. Unfortunately, with the cancellation of Penny Dreadful, the less than welcoming reception of Crimson Peak, and the disappointing result of the 2015 Victor Frankenstein, the potential for dark romanticism and steampunk gone macabre trends seems over before it could really start.

The hunchbacked Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) is rescued from the cruel circus and healed by the visionary but radical Doctor Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy). Dismissed from his medical college, Victor is reanimating small subjects and intends to create life with a new man-made cadaver. Unfortunately, Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott) is following the gruesome trail back to Victor, and he objects to Frankenstein’s amoral and godless plans – which need Igor’s raw medical talents to be completed.

 

Victor Frankenstein is slow to start with more telling than showing when the waxing on man versus monster making could all be seen rather than told. These talkative delays underestimate the audience, compromising atmospheric immersion and period mood with “little did I know” narrative breaks. Where’s the Victorian carnival flair and underlying horror? Victor Frankenstein has a unique angle on this oft told tale, but the action is styled for the cool circus escape with unnecessary slow motion and leaping over a box being highlighted as more important than freakish servitude and characters in peril. Viewers can see Victor observing Igor reading medical texts – we can feel the characters if you let us instead of cutting corners with fast moving dialogue, hectic editing, and shaky camerawork. Victor Frankenstein isn’t really sure how it wants to present itself because the required flashy becomes more important the the man versus nature, man versus man, and man versus himself horror possibilities. Mischievous animal part thefts and science montages happen quick with little time to enjoy the mad science. Of course, Victor Frankenstein isn’t true horror, yet the soft romantic scenes and rags to riches drama feels at odds with the macabre. Debates on magic and superstition versus emerging science and technology make for better drama alongside failed science presentations and medical mistakes letting us know where each character stands. Although the hissing monkey prototype has some creepy moments and could be a sinister step to the monster making, these scenes come off as a laughable detour. Real science probables such as two hearts and four lungs and numerous design montages become too busy, hindering the grossly fantastic and the character drama. Is Victor Frankenstein about Victor’s mad descent or Igor’s misused intelligence? If this is about Victor’s coming to this ghastly point, the story should begin before his experiments and conclude with the onset of his creation. If Victor Frankenstein really is about Igor’s role in the monstrosity, then the science should be nearer completion. Instead, Victor Frankenstein meanders for over an hour before London on the lamb and double crossings throw more wrenches into the quick monster finish. Past reasons why come too late, and tacked on narrations do nothing to explain what Victor Frankenstein is about beyond an opening ending in hopes of a sequel.

With his slick ‘stache and Victorian finery, James McAvoy (X-Men: Apocalypse) looks the titular mad scientist with an ulterior reason for inspiring Igor. Arrogant Victor thinks he’s too intelligent, admitting he prefers his vanity to being called a criminal and will speak slowly when talking to lesser people. Victor gets too far ahead of himself in belittling believers, life, and theology. He’s too excited over his own experiments and uses a fast talking wit to confuse others into not questioning his brilliance. Unfortunately, this flippant, condescending double talk effect is exactly how the audience feels when watching Victor Frankenstein. It’s more interesting to see Victor educate and raise Igor almost like he would do the monster. He doesn’t care about charity just control – Victor needs Igor’s talent to finish his life and death projects while he takes the credit. He fixes Igor’s hump in a gross, back cracking pinning while sucking the fluids out through a tube in one erroneously forced and homophobic scene, and comedic dialogue perceiving them as friends jars against the feeling superior Victor using Igor for his own devious ends. We meet Victor Frankenstein after the doctor has already left any morality questions behind and made his leap to madness, leaving what could have been an intriguing science versus soul debate as stubbornly unlikable assery. Victor’s motivation is revealed too late and very little consequences follow his actions. McAvoy is left doing more shouting than anything creepy, and his Scottish accent bleeds through into a not necessarily British, just toned down affectation akin to the meh at hand.

Fortunately, Daniel Radcliffe’s (Harry Potter) Igor is developed as a real assistant rather than an idiot in Victor Frankenstein. Despite learning nothing but cruelty from people as a circus hunchback, Igor is also a self-educated amateur doctor who cleans up nice and tries to remain loyal thanks to Victor’s kindness toward him. Of course, this Victor Frankenstein can’t be told wholly from Igor’s perspective as promised when he is absent from several scenes and critical information is given without him. Igor’s narration also comes and goes – oddly returning for his moon eyes over a girl when the fantastic science is afoot. Igor is also able to run, swim, and scale a rock cliff just by putting on a back brace after having spent a lifetime as cripple…okay. Staying entirely in Igor’s point of view would have helped Victor Frankenstein tremendously as his voiceovers or journaling montages could explain the number of weeks or months passing while giving the audience his private observations on the increasing madness. Instead, Igor flip flops too much to be the viewer’s anchor and changes his tune on Victor’s plans – first he’s reluctant to proceed due to a financial deadline and wants to discuss the peril of creating man in his own image but then he feels obligated to Victor for giving him life thanks to metaphoric contrivances. Igor knows the jealous Victor has become an embarrassment, used him, and interfered with his romance. However, the two hearts and two brothers parallels between bad Victor and good Igor seem more important that Igor’s fresh perspective, and the idea of Victor being a positive benefactor raising up life through Igor ends up too muddle to save Victor Frankenstein. However, the hunchback does get the girl in a hammy but surprisingly not exploitive sex scene. How often can you say that?

The supporting players in Victor Frankenstein sadly also serve as little more than stereotypes, including Jessica Brown Finlay as the pretty acrobat turned beard Lorelei. Despite potential for a would be love triangle, Finlay only appears in a handful of scenes looking too modern, out of place, and too small in her swimming costumes – and it’s all so odd because she was so good on Downton Abbey. Lorelei is merely used as a brightly color standout when some symbolism is necessary before inexplicably disappearing for the finale. While Andrew Scott’s (Sherlock) Turpin is a shrewd inspector not falling for Victor’s spin, the intriguing idea of his pursuit of Frankenstein for religious beliefs rather than legal prosecution is dropped for a standard case of lawman with manpain. Scott also feels either out of his depth or too much for the material, for his scenes seem like they come from another movie. Turpin may also loose an eye or hand at some point – but he ends up still having them both later anyway. Whoopsie! Elder Frankenstein Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) does add an element of stern class in his sacrilegiously short screen time. One frigging scene! The Baron gives Victor a good talking to with a well-deserved chastising and slap, and Victor Frankenstein needed much more of these father and son aspects.

 

Victor Frankenstein has sweeping Victorian scene setters with colorful circus tents, exterior facades, and zooming in entries – and viewers can tell it is all unnecessary CGI. What’s happening under the circus tent and inside the laboratory are cool enough thanks to nighttime gaslight glows, crackling electricity, and large gears. Up close foggy streets, bleak hospital interiors, and horse drawn carriages accent more alongside period medical sketches, Victorian zoos, steam gizmos, disembodied eyes, and more creepy specimens in green tanks. Mirrors and reflections mimic the duality in Victor Frankenstein, and overlaying anatomy lines, diagrams, body labels, and human schematics do better than any trite slow motion. Unfortunately, the mad science blueprints are used onscreen early, then dropped for most of the picture until the final monster design montage – almost to cop out on not actually showing any of the monster work. Daylight scenes in Victor Frankenstein reveal the color, costumes, golden rooms, and would be splendors of the time like heat and running water, but the bare minimum period setting remains Victorian light rather than fantastic steampunk. Top hats, a crinoline, and a few big skirt twirls don’t hit home the costumes, and modern tattoos can be see when wearing those strapless gowns. Victor Frankenstein never even says the year, and despite its obviously expensive intentions, this feels low budget messy and unfinished. Stormy, gloomy Scottish atmosphere comes too late in the final act – where the raising of the monster is an orchestration in action set pieces followed by a spectacular destruction. All that fiery, confusing hurrying and Victor Frankenstein limps into over five minutes of credits with little to show for it.

This not a horror movie nor a character drama, but Victor Frankenstein isn’t really science fiction and has no fantastic to its creation either. The rush to be modern cool or more Hollywood than nineteenth century British sacrifices any Gothic feeling, and the condensed script or production changes on the fly lack period finesse. It’s tough to view Victor Frankenstein as what it is but rather what it could have been, and the cast, setting, and story deserved better. While serviceable for audiences who haven’t seen any other Frankenstein adaptation, Victor Frankenstein makes older audiences appreciate the panache of the Hammer Frankenstein films all the more. If you’re looking for the book you won’t find it – like a game of telephone, Victor Frankenstein starts with Mary, passes through Universal, and quotes Young Frankenstein before this disappointing result that never takes its original possibilities to the next level.