Necon 38 – The Con That Has Become An Extended Family

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The following re-cap of Necon 38 will be appearing in the September issue of the HWA Newsletter:

Necon 38

July 19-22, 2018

Baypoint Inn & Conference Center

Necon has been described as a con unlike any other, and as a place that is both so tight-knit and welcoming of new folks that it’s like family. Both of these descriptions are true.

The best part about Necon is that everyone is friendly and accessible. So, in addition to informative writer panels all weekend long that are chock full of knowledgable information about the genre and writing in general, you’ll find yourself socializing with authors and like-minded individuals the entire weekend. The bottom line is regardless of where you are in your writing career or if you’re simply a reader you will be welcomed, and you will not be alone.

The worst part about Necon is time doesn’t stop while you’re there. The weekend flies by fast.

Necon was begun by Bob and Mary Booth back in 1980, and following Bob’s passing in 2013, is now run by their adult children, Sara Booth, our current fearless chairperson, and Dan Booth.  They do a fabulous job, year in and year out.

I’ve been going to Necon since 2001, and I haven’t missed one since I started. That’s eighteen Necons for me. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that. I feel as if I should be so much further along in my writing career, and that having gone to so many, I should be much more in the thick of things, but that’s not my style. I tend to hang back at cons and take everything in.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy and appreciate everything there is about Necon as much as the extroverts do.

It’s been a run ride, and it continued this year with Necon 38.

Necon 38 had it all.  Heck, in the true tradition of being a family, we even had a wedding this year!  How cool is that?

Anyway, Necon traditionally opens up on Thursday afternoons, and this year was no exception, as the con started on Thursday, July 19.

Now, a lot happens at Necon, much more than I’ve recorded here. For example, I did not attend evey panel, and there were events that I missed. So, the following is admittedly a recap from my perspective only. It’s not meant to be all-encompasing, and I apologize to anyone in attendance whose name I didn’t mention because either our paths didn’t cross this year or our conversation was all too brief.

Thursday, July 19, 2018.

This year’s guests of honor included writers Helen Marshall, David Wellington, and Dana Cameron, artist Jason Eckhardt, Toastmaster Errick A. Nunnally, and Legends Brian Keene and Carole Whitney.

Registration opened at 2:00, and judging by all the Facebook posts I read, lots of folks arrived right around then,

I did not. Each year driving down from New Hampshire to Bristol, RI, I get stuck in dreadful traffic in and around Boston, which extends my normal two-hour drive to an elongated four-hour drive, usually stuck in traffic in hot sun. This year I decided to skip all that and travel after rush hour, so this year, I arrived much later, around 9:00 pm.

The first official Necon event this year was the Welcome to Necon, Newbies!: Kaffeeklatsch hosted by Errick A. Nunnally & Laura J. Hickman. This programming is another example of how Necon strives to make everyone feel welcome. First timers who attend this meeting receive a nice introduction to the con.

10:00 was the famous Saugy Roast, where those yummy saugies, that flavorful hot dog found only in Rhode Island, are grilled to they’re deliciously charred and blackened. From there, you can stay out in the quad socializing as long as you like.

Friday July 20, 2018

8:00 it was time for breakfast, and I enjoyed a good meal of eggs, home fries, and fruit as I caught up with my roommate for the past several years and master of the dealer’s room, Scott Goudsward.

At 9:00, lots of campers headed out for the first Necon Olympic Event, Mini-Golf. I did not attend as I was on the movie Kaffeeklatsch this morning.

While I try to go to as many panels as possible, I can’t go to all of them, and so I skipped the 9:00 panel to do some writing (it’s a writer’s convention, after all!) and I worked on my movie review of SKYSCRAPER (2018) starring Dwayne Johnson. My reviews are posted on—time for my shameless plug!—my blog, THIS IS MY CREATION: THE BLOG OF MICHAEL ARRUDA, at marruda33.wordpress.com, where you’ll find all my movie reviews and columns on horror movies, all for free, I might add.

At 10:00, I attended the Read Any Good Books Lately?: The Year’s Best Books Kaffeeklatsch, a look back at some of the best books of the year. This Kaffeeklatsch featured Barry Lee Dejasu, Jaime Levine, Erin Underwood, and Hank Wagner. There were lots of book recommendations, most of them offbeat, since this is Necon. Included were nods to A Tale of Two Kitties by Sofie Kell, and to the works of author Neal Shusterman.

At 11:00 it was time for the And the Oscar Goes to: The Year’s Best Films Kaffeeklatsch, featuring Michael Arruda (yours truly!), Scott Goudsward, Matt Schwartz, Craig Shaw Gardner, and L.L. Soares, with lots of input from fellow movie lover Bill Carl.  I started things off by saying that for me it’s been a tremendous year for Marvel, and I cited BLACK PANTHER as my favorite film of the year so far. Other nods went to the horror movies HEREDITARY and A QUIET PLACE. 

Other titles mentioned included the Netflix original THE BABYSITTER, ANNIHILATION, ISLE OF DOGS, THE RITUAL, TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID, HOTEL ARTEMIS, THE CYNIC THE RAT AND THE FIST, THE DEATH OF STALIN, and the Netflix original GERALD’S GAME, to name just a few.

At noon it was time for lunch, and a chance to catch up with more friends.

This year I joined the “Skeleton Crew,” that awesome group of volunteers led by P.D. (Trish) Cacek. I manned the seat by the dealer’s room entrance for a while, making sure folks didn’t bring beverages into the room, an effort to keep coffee and the like from being spilled on the merchandise. It was fun chatting with everyone who came in and out.

At 2:00 I attended the panel, The Spark: What Inspires a Great Short Story? moderated by Nick Kaufmann. Also on the panel were Meghan Arcuri-Moran, Christa Carmen, Toni L.P. Kelner, Ed Kurtz, and Helen Marshall. There were lots of interesting and insightful tidbits to come out of this panel. Highlights included the notion that not all short stories need to have a beginning, middle, and end, that some need only capture a moment in a character’s life. Another concise definition of a short story: it’s the most important thing to happen in the main character’s life.

At 3:00 I attended the panel, Invasion of the Pod People: Creating Your Own Podcast, moderated by Armand Rosamilla and featuring Amber Fallon, Chris Golden, Brian Keene, James Moore, and Mary SanGiovanni. Discussed were the ins and outs of doing a podcast, and for most folks on the panel, it’s a labor of love. Few people do podcasts to make money. However, it certainly can help book sales as people who listen to the podcasts often will check out your books.

At 4:00 I was back on duty by the Dealer’s Room, and at 5:00 we all assembled outside for the newest Necon tradition, the group photo. This started last year when we had to evacuate the building due to a fire alarm and decided to take advantage of the opportunity. This year we didn’t need a fire alarm for the picture. That being said, the fire alarm had different ideas.  More on that later.

At 7:00 it was time for the Official Necon 38 Toast by Toastmaster Errick A. Nunnally, followed by the comical Necon Update with Mike Myers, followed by the Necon Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. This year’s inductee was celebrated horror author and podcast host Brian Keene.

At 8:00 it was time for the Meet the Authors Party, that event where if you’re a reader, you get the opportunity to meet and greet your favorite authors and purchase signed copies of their books. It’s also the opportunity for the authors to set up shop and make their books available.

I was fortunate enough to share a table with some of my fellow New England Horror Authors, including my Cinema Knife Fight buddy L.L. Soares, Pete Dudar, Scott Goudsward, Trisha Wooldridge, and others. For me, if I can sell one book, I’ll count that as a successful evening. So, in that regard, I had a very successful evening in that I sold four of my books, including three copies of my short story collection For The Love of Horror.

I also purchased the highly touted first novel by Tony Tremblay, entitled THE MOORE HOUSE.  I can’t wait to read it. A book I really wanted to buy and will at some point is the brand new short story collection, her first, by Dougjai Gam Bepko, Glass Slipper Dreams, Shattered. I heard plenty of wonderful things about her debut collection this weekend. I also still haven’t bought Matt Bechtel’s highly praised debut collection from last year, Monochromes: And Other Stories.  The downside of living on a budget.

And there’s many, many more. That’s always the most difficult part of Necon. There are so many books to buy, way more than I can afford.

And after that, it was time for socializing on the quad, that time when you get to chat with friends, old and new, long into the wee hours of the morning.  This year I caught up with, among others, L.L. Soares, Pete Dudar, Paul McNally, Kelly Winn, John Harvey, Kevin Lewis, David Price, and Patrick Freivald, to name just a few.

 

Saturday, July 21, 2018

I attended the 10:00 panel, BOO!: Modern Ghost Stories, moderated by P.D. Cacek and featuring Tom Deady, John Foster, Michael Rowe, Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel, Tony Tremblay, and Dan Waters, which discussed, among other things, the differences between ghosts of yesteryear and ghosts of today. It was also suggested that ghosts are the easiest tropes to believe in, since most people believe in ghosts, as opposed to vampires, werewolves, and zombies, and so the ghost story author has that advantage in that its subject is one that people want to believe in.

Next up for me was the all important 11:00 panel, Closing Time: Remembering the Life and Work of Jack Ketchum, moderated by Doug Winter, and featuring Linda Addison, Jill Bauman, Ginjer Buchanan, Sephera Giron, Gordon Linzner, and Bracken MacLeod. This was both a somber and celebratory event as the panel looked back on the life of author Jack Ketchum, who passed away earlier this year, known here at Necon by his real name Dallas Mayr. The overwhelming sentiment, which for those of us who attend Necon regularly already know, was how kind and generous Dallas was, and that for those who read him first and met him later, that was a something of a shock, since he wrote brutally dark fiction.

There were also plenty of fun stories and anecdotes, and as Sephera Giron prepared to tell one, a fire alarm— our second in two years— went off. Sephera quipped, “Dallas, it’s not that story!”

After lunch, I found myself working at the door to the dealer’s room once again.  While there, Frank Raymond Michaels and I had our annual Necon discussion of Universal Horror vs. Hammer Horror. I also found some time to relax out in the quad on a beautiful sunny afternoon and chat with friends.

I attended the 3:30 panel, When Your Book Has A Soundtrack: The Influence of Music on Your Writing, moderated by Matt Bechtel, and featuring Doungjai Gam Bepko, Rachel Autumn Deering, Gary Frank, Bracken MacLeod, Rio Youers, and Doug Winter. The panel discussed listening to music when writing, and the majority of the authors in the room acknowledged that they do indeed listen to music when they write. Some authors ignore the song lyrics and view the vocals as just another instrument making music. Other authors are inspired by lyrics, writing stories or even entire novels based on them.

At 4:30, I attended the panel It’s Kind of a Long Story: The Art of the Novel, moderated by Kristin Dearborn, and featuring William Carl, James Chambers, Nate Kenyon, David Wellington, Mercedes M. Yardley, Rio Youers, and Dyer Wilk.  This panel covered exactly what its title said, the nuts and bolts of writing a novel. A bunch of topics were discussed, including the use of outlines and the differences between writing a novel and a short story.

After dinner, I joined my fellow Skeleton Crew members including P.D. Cacek (our fearless leader!), Morven Westfield, Scott Goudsward, Scott Wooldridge, and James Chambers, among others, as we helped set up for the Artists Reception, that time where the attention turns to the artists and their fine works on display in the dealer’s room, as well as to delicious desserts and hot coffee.

At 7:30 it was time for That Damned Game Show featuring Craig Shaw Gardner & Doug Winter.  The “controversial” game show had been missing from Necon for several years now, but I for one was happy to see its return. It’s controversial because it tends to go on a tad too long.  I happen to love the game show. I think the running gag of the confusing overlong rules is hilarious, and it’s fun to see the “contestants” struggle with both the answers and the rules. That being said, it is too long, and going forward, if it’s cut in half, it would make for a very satisfying event.

Another reason I enjoy the game show is that when the contestants miss the answers, the questions go to the audience, and if you answer right you win one of Necon’s “valuable prizes.” I won two prizes this year, as I answered two obscure questions on the films of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff.  And I love these valuable little joke prizes because I use them in my middle school classroom throughout the year. I have a wind-up walking brain, for instance, that my middle schoolers adore.

After the game show, it was time for The Infamous Necon Roast. This year’s “victim,” was Matt Bechtel. Hilarious as always, but no details here, because “what happens at Necon, stays at Necon.”

Afterwards it was more socializing on the quad, and more saugies!  Once again I joined my fellow Skeleton Crew members and helped set up the food tables.

And since Necon is a family, tonight we had something extraordinarily special: a wedding! Yes, James Moore married Tessa (Cullie) Seppala in a ceremony presided over by Bracken MacLeod. It was a beautiful ceremony, witnessed by the 200 Necon campers who were all assembled on the quad.

Sunday July 22, 2018

While there were two panels this morning, I missed them after a late night in which I was up to about 2:30 am.

I attended the 11:00 Necon Town Meeting, where all the Necon Olympic medals were handed out for events such as mini golfdarts, foosball, High-Low Jack, and ping pong, as well as various other awards, such as the FEZ’S, those famous Necon caps given out to folks at the con who were deemed “FEZ-worthy.”

The Town Meeting is also the time to look back and say what folks liked and disliked. As usual, there were plenty of likes and pretty much no dislikes.

The hardest part of Necon is saying goodbye to everyone. I tried to say farewell to as many people as I could find, but ultimately, with people leaving various times, it’s impossible to catch everyone.

The good news is that next year is another Necon, another opportunity to spend time with like-minded folks who are more than just good friends. They really are members of an extended family.

Until next year—.

—END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For_the_love_of_Horror- original cover

Print cover

For the Love of Horror cover (3)

Ebook cover

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: IT FOLLOWS (2014)

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All the rage this year for horror fans has been the Netflix TV show STRANGER THINGS (2016), and with good reason:  it’s a phenomenal show.  Among the many things it gets right is its near-perfect homage to the horror films of the 1980s, especially the films of John Carpenter.

But for me, before STRANGER THINGS, a film that also captured the spirit of John Carpenter’s early works was the stylish horror flick IT FOLLOWS (2014).  While not a clear homage to the 1980s— in fact, it’s unclear when this film takes place, and this timelessness seems to have been done on purpose— the film definitely has that 1980s horror vibe.

In fact, there are several specific shots that bring to mind John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978).  The neighborhood where the main characters live looks similar to Laurie Strode’s neighborhood in HALLOWEEN, and there’a scene where main character Jay sits in a classroom listening to her teacher drone on before looking out the window and seeing a threat.  There’s a similar scene in HALLOWEEN.  In that movie, Laurie looks out the window and sees Michael Myers’ car.  In IT FOLLOWS, Jay looks out the window and sees the old woman walking towards her.

IT FOLLOWS is a stylish, sexy horror movie that ranks as one of the best horror films to come out in the past ten years.

The film opens with a teenage girl fleeing from some unseen terror.  The next morning she turns up brutally murdered.

The action switches to 19 year-old Jay Height (Maika Monroe) on a date with Hugh (Jake Weary), a guy she is really interested in.  Gotta do a better job picking your dates, Jay.  After the two have sex, Hugh drugs Jay, and when she awakes, she is tied to a wheelchair.  Hugh explains that he’s not going to hurt her, but that he restrained her so he could tell her the truth:  he is being followed by some unknown entity, and now by having sex with Jay, he has passed on the curse to her, and if she wants to get rid of the curse, she’ll have to have sex with someone else.

Can someone say padded cell?

That’s certainly what Jay is thinking, until a naked woman shows up and starts slowly walking towards her and Hugh.  This entity only has to touch you, and you die, so as long as you outrun it, you’re safe, but it never stops pursuing you.  Ever.

Hugh quickly whisks Jay away from the woman and brings her back home, but he tells her to remember all that he told her.  Jay thinks he’s nuts and a creep, until once again, this time an elderly woman- who no one else seems to see- shows up at her school and follows her, causing Jay to up and run from the building.

Jay confides in her sister Kelly (Lili Sepe), and with the help of their friends, Paul (Keir Gilchrist), Yara (Olivia Luccardi), and Greg (Daniel Zovatto), they vow to get to the bottom of this mystery and protect Jay’s life in the process.

While this may sound like just another bad teenager horror movie, IT FOLLOWS is anything but bad and recycled.  It’s exceedingly fresh and effective.

Let’s start with the entity, the “monster” that is inflicting harm on the teenagers.  This entity is unlike what we’ve seen in horror movies of late – it’s not a demon or a ghost or an alien, but then again, maybe it is.  The film never quite defines just what “it” is, and this is part of what makes this movie work so well.  It doesn’t need to define its villain.

What this force does is effective enough on its own.  It simply walks—never runs— towards its intended victim, and when it touches them, it kills them.  So, if you’re the hunted, like Jay, you have to constantly outrun this thing because it never stops, which reminded me a little bit of the premise from the first TERMINATOR movie way back when.  The fear here is its relentlessness.  Sure, it moves like a turtle, but it never stops, which means, eventually people like Jay are going to grow weary, tired, fall asleep, what have you, and that thing will catch up to them and kill them.

It also looks different to everyone who sees it, and to those it’s not hunting, it’s invisible.   This might not sound like much in the scare department, but you’ll be surprised at how creepy the image of an old woman walking listlessly towards the camera can be.

Which brings me to another thing I loved about IT FOLLOWS:  its simplicity.  Things here work on such an unpretentious level, and the movie generates scares so effortlessly just by having people walking towards their victims, it’s refreshing and for those of us who love horror it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

Writer/director David Robert Mitchell succeeds in making an extremely stylish and terrifying horror movie.  He also captures the feel of run down Detroit neighborhoods which adds to the mood of this one.

Mitchell’s work here clearly calls to mind horror movies from the 1970s and 1980s, especially the films of John Carpenter, and the look of this movie is helped a lot by its masterful music score by Rich Vreeland, listed in the credits by his nickname “Disasterpeace.”  The music has a major impact on this movie and is reminiscent of the electronic scores of John Carpenter.

The cast here is also excellent.  Maika Monroe is terribly sexy as Jay, and she succeeds in making her both strong and vulnerable at the same time.  Lili Sepe is just as good as Jay’s sister Kelly.

Keir Gilchrist nails his role as Paul, the slightly nerdy friend who has a thing for Jay and vows to protect her.  Likewise, Olivia Luccardi is excellent as Yara, as is Daniel Zovatto as their street smart friend Greg.

In addition to being a creepy horror movie, David Robert Mitchell’s script also works on a symbolic level.  The characters by having sex pass on the “curse” to the person they have sex with, like an STD or the AIDS virus, and like AIDS, while the entity can be controlled, it can never be eradicated.  It keeps following you forever.

There’s also a weird time element going on in the film which might be a distraction for some folks but wasn’t for me.  The film looks like it takes place in the 1970s/80s, and some of the action in this film backs this up:  the characters watch television on old TV sets which use antennas, no one uses cell phones, the teens play board games rather than video games, and the cars aren’t the newest models.  However, in several scenes, Yara is definitely reading from kindle device.

Writer/director David Robert Mitchell has said he did these things because he wanted this film to be timeless, and I don’t have a problem with this.  It’s been done before.  One of the most famous horror series of all time, the Universal FRANKENSTEIN series, for example, never defined its timeline, and those films have always worked.

IT FOLLOWS is one of the more satisfying horror films I’ve seen in a long while.  To generate horror isn’t easy.  Those of us who write horror know this firsthand.  It’s certainly easier doing it with shock scenes and blood and gore, and so when someone comes along like David Robert Mitchell in this case and makes a film that is as unsettling as this one is with so few visual effects and traditional scares, that’s kinda special.

Definitely check out IT FOLLOWS, but if you look out your window and  see someone slowly walking towards you, someone that nobody else seems to be noticing, take my advice:  run!

—END—

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE MUMMY (1932)

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Here’s my latest IN THE THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the Boris Karloff classic, THE MUMMY (1932), appearing now in the August 2016 edition of the HWA NEWSLETTER, and it’s a reprint of a column which originally appeared in those pages back in August 2009.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT:  THE MUMMY (1932)

By Michael Arruda

“It comest to life!” screams its movie poster.  It’s a Universal monster classic from the 1930s, and it stars Boris Karloff, but it’s not FRANKENSTEIN (1931).  It’s THE MUMMY (1932).

THE MUMMY showcases a masterful lead performance by Boris Karloff as the undead mummy, Im-Ho-Tep, exceptional direction by DRACULA (1931) cinematographer Karl Freund, remarkable mummy make-up by Jack Pierce, and unlike FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA, a music score.

The screenplay for THE MUMMY was written by John L. Balderston, no stranger to classic horror tales.  Balderston adapted the play used for the screenply for FRANKENSTEIN (1931), which of course was adapted from the Mary Shelley novel, and he also wrote one of the stage versions of DRACULA, which served as the model for the Universal Bela Lugosi movie DRACULA (1931).

THE MUMMY opens in 1921 in Egypt, where an expedition led by Sir Joseph Whemple (Arthur Byron) has just discovered the remains of an ancient mummy, Im-Ho-Tep (Boris Karloff).  Doctor Muller (Edward Van Sloan) warns Whemple and his young assistant Ralph Norton (Bramwell Fletcher) not to ignore the ancient curse discovered along with the mummy, but the young assistant is too eager, and as he reads from the Scroll of Thoth, behind him, the mummy awakes.

It is probably the film’s most famous scene.  As the words are read, the camera focuses on the dead mummy’s face, and ever so slowly, the eyes open, and then the arm slowly moves.  When the mummy takes the scroll, the young assistant bursts into uncontrollable mad laughter, and as we learn later, “he died laughing.”

The action switches to 1932 (which was present day when THE MUMMY was released).  Im-Ho-Tep has shed his bandages and is using the alias “Ardath Bey.”  The make-up here by Jack Pierce is superb.  Without his bandages, Karloff really does look like the walking dead.

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Jack Pierce’s haunting mummy make-up, turning Boris Karloff into the resurrected undead mummy, Im-Ho-Tep.

 

Im-Ho-Tep attempts to bring his long lost love, the princes Anck-es-en-Amon back to life.  He discovers that her soul is now in the body of Helen Grosvenor (Zita Johann), who happens to be in love with Joseph Whemple’s son, Frank (David Manners).  Im-Ho-Tep wants to kill her so he can resurrect her as an undead, but Frank Whemple and Doctor Muller stand in his way.

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Helen (Zita Johann) falls under the spell of Im-Ho-Tep (Boris Karloff) in THE MUMMY (1932).

In THE MUMMY, Karloff delivers another wonderful performance.  His mummy is much more evil than the later depictions of a mute bandaged monster lumbering around the countryside strangling people.  Yet, Karloff also makes Im-Ho-Tep a somewhat sympathetic character.  We feel for the guy, and his plight to get his long lost love back.

But the best part of THE MUMMY is the cinematography and direction by Karl Freund.  Freund does a more impressive job at the helm of THE MUMMY than either of his more famous counterparts, Tod Browning directing DRACULA and James Whale directing FRANKENSTEIN.

Freund creates an unforgettable opening sequence of the mummy resurrected, a haunting and dreamlike flashback sequence (the scene where the slaves get spears thrust through their chests still makes me wince), and he imbues the scenes inside the museum with creepy shadows and mysterious lighting.

If there are any flaws, it’s the ending, which is quick and shot in a choppy clumsy manner, not at all like the rest of the movie.

So, as we make our way through the lazy hazy days of summer, grab a beverage, dig your toes into the sands of the Egyptian desert, and welcome Im-Ho-Tep into your living room.  Just don’t say the words of that ancient curse too loud.

One guy dying laughing is more than enough.

—END—

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1960)

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Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, published in the April 2016 edition of THE OFFICIAL NEWSLETTER OF THE HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION.  It’s on the Hammer Film THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1960).  Enjoy!

—Michael

Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll poster

When Hammer Films struck gold with their horror hits THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1957) and HORROR OF DRACULA (1958), remakes of the iconic classics FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and DRACULA (1931) it was for a number of reasons, but chief amongst them was each film made changes to the original versions that blew audiences away.

In THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, Peter Cushing shocked  audiences with his villainous portrayal of Baron Frankenstein, and in HORROR OF DRACULA, Christopher Lee terrified viewers with his explosively violent portrayal of Count Dracula.  For some reason, in their subsequent remakes, Hammer wasn’t able to duplicate these impressive improvements, and so, while their handsome productions would continue to look good and genuinely entertain, they never seemed to regain that edge which their first two remakes possessed.

Take THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL (1960) for example.  This is yet another very good looking Hammer Film, directed by their top director Terence Fisher, and it even features Christopher Lee in a supporting role, but at the end of the day, while modestly entertaining, THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL remains vastly inferior to the versions which came before it, the 1932 version DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, in which Fredric March won an Oscar for his performance in the lead dual role, and the 1941 DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE starring Spencer Tracy.

The gimmick Hammer uses here in TWO FACES is that when Jekyll turns into Hyde, he doesn’t become a hideous looking monster but an extremely handsome gentleman.  Yet, in spite of his looks, Mr. Hyde is still a sinister being.  Now, this tweak to the story in itself is rather interesting, and I have no problem with it.  However, the problem here isn’t the tweak, but the fact the the evil Mr. Hyde in this movie, played by Paul Massie, pales in comparison to the previous dark interpretations by Fredric March and Spencer Tracy.

Both March’s and Tracy’s performance remain disturbing today.  While I like both performances and both versions a lot, I’ve always given the Tracy version a slight edge because Tracy instills such an abhorrent evil in his Hyde that I still find this movie difficult to watch, even today.  I always feel like I need to shower after watching it.  The way he torments Ingrid Bergman’s Ivy is horrifying and unpleasant.

Paul Massie doesn’t come close to matching the intensity of either March or Tracy with his performance as Mr. Hyde.  He’s even worse as Dr. Jekyll.  Spencer Tracy makes Dr. Jekyll such a heroic figure it’s almost impossible to believe that Mr. Hyde could emanate from him.  Massie’s Jekyll is a boring bearded scientist who speaks and looks like he’s spent the last several years living in a cave.

Paul Massie Mr. Hyde

Paul Massie as a handsome Mr. Hyde

The script by Wolf Mankowitz doesn’t help matters.  As Hammer Films often did, the story is simplified, and characters condensed.  Instead of having Jekyll and Hyde deal with both a wife and a mistress, in this version he only has a wife Kitty (Dawn Addams), who happens to be someone else’s mistress!  Yep, she’s having an affair with the unscrupulous Paul Allen (Christopher Lee).  Now, not only is Allen sleeping with Jekyll’s wife, but he’s also living off Jekyll’s money, as he keeps asking for handouts which he doesn’t pay back, and Jekyll is fool enough to keep paying him!

As you can see, Jekyll in this movie is sort of a clueless dolt, and he’s not particularly sympathetic. Worse yet, when Mr. Hyde comes along and decides he’s going to steal Kitty away from Allen, he’s a miserable failure at it!  Some evil villain!  Sure, eventually he exacts his revenge against these two, but compared to March’s and Tracy’s Hyde, this guy’s a pussycat.

Sadly, the story here is all rather boring, and the characters don’t help.  Both Kitty and Paul Allen are unlikable, Dr. Jekyll is a sad sack who deserves his fate, and Mr. Hyde is as ineffective a villain as Wile E. Coyote!  None of these folks have much to do.  The only thing on Hyde’s agenda here is disrupting the adulterous relationship between Kitty and Paul Allen, and he’s not terribly successful at it.

Director Terence Fisher who usually crafts at least one memorable scene in each of his films fires blanks with this one.  And the pacing is dreadfully slow.  For example, one of the first scenes is a long drawn out scene of exposition dialogue between Jekyll and one of his colleagues that seems to go on forever and really gets the film off to a molasses-like start.

Christopher Lee fares the best here with his supporting role as Paul Allen.  First of all, it’s a rare time that Lee isn’t playing the villain, the hero, or some pompous snobby type.  He’s a handsome cad here,  who prides himself on how much fun he can have at other people’s expense, and when he first meets Hyde, the two naturally become friends, until later when Hyde turns against him.

christopher lee two faces of dr jekyll

Christopher Lee in THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL.

It’s also a chance to see just how handsome Christopher Lee was.  When we think of Lee we think of red bloodshot eyes and hissing fangs, but without his Dracula make-up, he was quite the handsome man.  He’s rarely looked as dashing as he does here in THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL.

Lee also gives the character of Paul Allen some depth.  He gives the guy an undercurrent of conscience.  He doesn’t like Hyde the more he gets to know him, nor does he really treat Kitty all that badly.  He genuinely seems to have feelings for her.  In a strange way, Paul Allen may be the most likable character in the movie.

Another fun part about THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL is a young Oliver Reed shows up in a pre-THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) performance in an unbilled bit as a bouncer.   He gets to confront both Hyde and Paul Allen before being promptly thrashed by the both of them.  It’s fun to see Lee and Reed in the same scene.

But other than Lee’s performance and Reed’s one scene, there’s not a whole lot to be excited about concerning THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL.  The whole film plays like DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE LITE.  And that’s really the biggest problem with this movie.  It doesn’t come close to duplicating the effectiveness of the previous JEKYLL AND HYDE movies.  It doesn’t contain the powerhouse performances of Fredric March and Spencer Tracy, nor does it have the same disturbing story the previous versions tell.

THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL is as good looking and well-produced a Hammer Film as any, but in this case, without anything extra special to lift it above the prior versions of this Robert Louis Stevenson tale, it’s simply not enough.

And that’s because in this movie the two faces of Dr. Jekyll are neither heroic nor monstrous, and as a result not at all memorable.

—END—

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: DEAD MEN WALK (1943)

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Here is my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on the George Zucco/Dwight Frye horror movie DEAD MEN WALK (1943), up now in the January issue of THE OFFICIAL NEWSLETTER OF THE HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION.

Enjoy!

—Michael

dead man walk - poster

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

By

Michael Arruda

January.  The dead of winter.

The time of year when DEAD MEN WALK (1943).

At least if you’re George Zucco, anyway.

George Zucco is one of my favorite character actors from the 1940s.  In the horror films of that decade, he often played a villain or a mad scientist, and while he never achieved a name for himself like Bela Lugosi or even John Carradine, he was quite good in many, many movies.  I always remember him for his brief bit as Professor Bruno Lampini in the Universal monster fest HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944), and he also played the High Priest Andoheb in three of the Universal Kharis MUMMY movies, THE MUMMY’S HAND (1940), THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942), and THE MUMMY’S GHOST (1944).

Zucco plays the lead in DEAD MEN WALK, and as expected he’s quite good.  He plays a dual role in this one, as he portrays twin brothers, one good, the well-respected doctor Lloyd Clayton, and the other, the devil worshiping  Dr. Elwyn Clayton, not so good.

And if this weren’t enough, Dwight Frye even shows up as Zucco’s hunchbacked assistant, Zolarr.  As a result, in spite of being a no-budget thriller, DEAD MEN WALK is a real treat.

DEAD MEN WALK opens with a funeral, as Elwyn Clayton (George Zucco) lies dead in his coffin.  His twin brother Dr. Lloyd Clayton (George Zucco) declares his brother better off dead, since he was such an evil soul.  When Elwyn’s hunchback assistant Zolarr (Dwight Frye) shows up, he accuses Lloyd of murdering his brother.  Lloyd dismisses Zolarr’s accusations and says he acted in self- defense.

Anyway, faster than you can say “Fritz” or “Renfield” (take your pick) Zolarr resurrects Elwyn’s body and brings him back to life, and it’s easy to do, because we learn that Elwyn is now a vampire!  As a vampire, Elwyn wastes no time putting the bite on Lloyd’s niece Gayle (Mary Carlisle).  It’s now up to Lloyd to protect his niece and stop his undead brother once and for all.

DEAD MEN WALK isn’t anything more than a Grade Z horror movie, but Zucco and Frye raise it up a few notches and make it worth watching, which is a good thing because visually this one has little to offer.  There are very few exciting scenes, nor is there much atmosphere.  Director Sam Newfield’s idea of suspense is to have Dwight Frye peer menacingly through a window.

Even the vampire elements are downplayed.  All the bites occur off-camera, and when George Zucco plays the vampire twin, he wears no make-up.  The two characters are distinguishable because the good doctor wears eyeglasses and the evil vampire brother doesn’t.  Maybe his vision improved as an undead!

The script isn’t bad though.  It’s written by Fred Myton whose credits go back to the silent era.  In fact, his earliest credits date back to 1915.  One hundred years ago!  How about that?  The dialogue in DEAD MEN WALK really isn’t bad at all.  In fact, it’s actually pretty good, and for the most part, when the characters speak, they sound like real people.

Zucco’s great as he always is.  And he’s much more than just a screen villain.  In fact, his evil twin is pretty one-dimensional.  It’s the good brother, Lloyd, who Zucco actually makes more interesting.

And what else can you say about Dwight Frye other than it’s a shame he wasn’t able to make more movies.  After his roles as Renfield in DRACULA (1931) and Fritz in FRANKENSTEIN (1931), he was typecast as weirdos and hunchbacks.  He died young, at the age of 44 in 1943.  A shame.  Only Frye could give a dignified death to a character whose last lines are cries of “Master!  Master!”  Most other actors screaming these lines would be laughable.  When Frye screams them, as Zolarr lies trapped in a burning house, he generates legitimate sympathy for the character.

Dead_Men_Walk- Frye & Zucco

Dwight Frye and George Zucco prepare to scare an unsuspecting victim in DEAD MEN WALK.

 

And really, Dwight Frye and George Zucco are the only reasons to see DEAD MEN WALK.  They lift the material and make this otherwise Grade Z movie enjoyable.

It’s cold.  It’s January.  It’s that time of year we’re all stuck inside.

To beat that claustrophobic feeling go out for a walk.  It’ll do you good.  And you won’t be alone.

Not when DEAD MEN WALK.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973)

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Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973), published in the December 2015 edition of THE HWA NEWSLETTER, the Official Newsletter of the Horror Writers Association.
Enjoy!
—Michael
IN THE SPOOKLIGHT
BY
MICHAEL ARRUDA
LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE
Not only is December a great time to watch a haunted house movie, but the plot of today’s movie ­ THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE (1973) ­­­ actually takes place in December. How cool is that? Okay, so I’m easily amused.
I actually saw THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE when it was first released at the drive­in as part of a double feature with THE OTHER (1972). I was nine years­old when my parents took my younger brother and me to see this double bill, and while I slept through THE OTHER, I remember enjoying HELL HOUSE. So, there was certainly some nostalgia watching this one again recently on Netflix Streaming, especially since I hadn’t seen it in years.
Its tale of an investigative team probing a haunted house, trying to prove or disprove the existence of ghosts, reminds me an awful lot of Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House” and the movie THE HAUNTING (1963) which is based on the Shirley Jackson story. But it’s actually based on the novel Hell House by Richard Matheson, who also wrote the screenplay for the movie.
In THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, Dr. Barrett (Clive Revill) a physicist, leads the examination into Hell House. His team includes his wife Ann (Gayle Hunnicutt), a psychic Florence Tanner (Pamela Franklin), and a physical medium, Benjamin Fischer (Roddy McDowall), who has the distinction of being the only survivor from a previous investigation into the house.
legend of hell house - team
So, do ghosts exist or not? Dr. Barrett seems hell bent on proving once and for all that they do not exist, but the spirit that occupies Hell House has other ideas.
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is ghostly fun from start to finish. It’s full of spooky atmosphere and contains plenty of creepy scenes.
Director John Hough, fresh off his horror hit for Hammer Films, the vampire film TWINS OF EVIL (1971) starring Peter Cushing, pretty much strikes gold again. Both of these films are excellent horror movies. Hough would go on to direct the Walt Disney classic ESCAPE FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN (1975), as well as its sequel RETURN FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN (1978) starring Christopher Lee. Hough would also direct Peter Cushing’s final movie, BIGGLES: ADVENTURES IN TIME (1986).
Roddy McDowall leads a fine cast. McDowall is excellent here as Benjamin Fischer, the man with the most insight into Hell House since he had been there before. I was already a Roddy McDowall fan when I saw this at the movies in 1973 because of the PLANET OF THE APES films. THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE was probably the first movie where I actually got to see his face!
So that’s what Cornelius looks like!
Clive Revill is authoritative as physicist and lead investigator Dr. Barrett, and Gayle Hunnicutt is memorable as his wife Ann. Pamela Franklin makes for a beautiful and oftentimes vulnerable psychic Florence Tanner. Even Michael Gough shows up as a corpse, which is a nice way of keeping this Hammer favorite from his signature overacting!
All four of the main characters go through changes since they are all affected one way or another by the spirit occupying Hell House. McDowall’s character probably fares the best, as he seems to
be best equipped to fend off the ghost.
Clive Revill’s Dr. Barrett, on the other hand, the supposed the leader of the team, is influenced by
the Hell House spirit pretty much from the get­go, as he quickly becomes irritable, angry, and worst of all confused. Sure, these could just be personality flaws, but more likely, they’re the work of the ghost.
Barrett’s wife Ann becomes sexually aroused and continually makes advances towards Ben Fischer, while psychic Florence senses who the ghost is but no one on her team seems to believe her, probably because she too exhibits odd behavior.
Is this assembled team just a group of oddballs? Or are they all influenced and infected by the supernatural presence residing at Hell House? You know the answer to that question, and that’s what makes THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE so much fun.
The prevailing feeling throughout THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is one of uncertainty and doubt. The supernatural entity makes its presence known immediately, and the characters all become affected quickly, even if they don’t realize it.
THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE is an excellent horror movie and is yet another quality horror film from the 1970s, a decade which is chock full of horror classics. Sure, there are the big budget  classics like THE EXORCIST (1973), JAWS (1975), THE OMEN (1976) and ALIEN (1979),  but it’s also the decade of THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972), THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) and HALLOWEEN (1978). It’s also the decade of films
like THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976), THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU (1977), and KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS (1977), low budget films that didn’t become huge hits but provided quality horror entertainment all the same. THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE falls into this latter category.
As we look back today at the 1970s, a decade famous for its bad hairstyles and disco music, it’s quite clear that for horror movie fans, it’s one of the best decades ever. There are a lot of really good horror movies made in the 1970s.
If there’s one weakness regarding THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE it’s the film’s plot. Its haunted house tale is nothing I haven’t seen before, and even though the film has fun with it, and it all works, at the end of the day, it’s still just another haunted house story with all the similar
trimmings.
What makes THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE stand out among other films of its type is a talented cast, strong direction, and a decent script by Richard Matheson.
As you make the rounds this holiday season, visiting family and fiends­­­ er, friends, don’t forget  to stop by HELL HOUSE. There’s someone there who’s dying to see you.
­­­END­­­

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1964)

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tomb of ligeia - posterThis is a reprint of a column that originally ran in the October 2007 issue of The HWA Newsletter, on the Vincent Price movie THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1964). It’s reprinted in the current October 2015 issue of the HWA Newsletter as well as here.  And don’t forget:  if you like this column, you can read 115 more in my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT collection, available both as an EBook (www.neconebooks.com)  and in a print-on-demand edition (https://www.createspace.com/4293038.).

Enjoy!

—Michael

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

I prefer horror to be an emotional experience, which is why, sometimes Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe adaptations don’t work for me.

THE TOMB OF LIGEIA (1964), starring Vincent Price, Corman’s eighth and final Poe adaptation, is a perfect example.

Technically, the film is flawless.  It’s arguably Corman’s best job at the helm.  The film looks phenomenal, there’s great use of locations, and the camera work is extremely stylish.  For these reasons alone watching THE TOMB OF LIGEIA can be as rewarding and mouthwatering as reading a good novel.  Your intelligence won’t be let down.

It also has a decent screenplay by Robert Towne, which lives up to its source material.

However, THE TOMB OF LIGEIA has never been one of my favorites because as it plays out, it’s as cold as a corpse with about as much life (unless of course you’re talking vampire and zombies, which get around rather well, but there ain’t no vampires or zombies here!).  Perhaps this is on purpose, and perhaps it’s just another sign of Corman’s genius.  Could be.  But for me, the fact remains that as I watch THE TOMB OF LIGEIA, and as I recognize while watching that “hmm, this movie is extremely well made,” I also realize I’m not emotionally invested in the characters or the situations.

THE TOMB OF LIGEIA tells the story of Verden Fell (Vincent Price) who’s— what else?— brooding over the death of his wife, Ligeia.  When a new woman, the Lady Rowena (Elizabeth Shepherd, in a dual role, as she also appears as Ligeia) expresses interest in Verden, the ghost of Ligeia takes offense, setting off the usual, standard ghostly shenanigans.  We learn that Verden isn’t mourning his deceased wife— he’s afraid of her, afraid that she’s not really dead.  Turns out Ligeia was a bold, energetic woman who had asserted she would never die, and she definitely got inside Verden’s head.

It’s this part of the film that works best for me.  Is Ligeia really a ghost?   Or is it Verden?  So mind-washed by his deceased wife that he himself is causing the mayhem?  On this level, the film works well.

And the performances by the two leads are terrific.  Price stands out as Verden.  His look, with the dark brown hair and dark glasses, to shield his ultra-sensitive eyes from the light, is unique to this movie.  Price moves through this role effortlessly, as if he could do it in his sleep.  Elizabeth Shepherd is just as good as The Lady Rowena.  Her portrayal of Rowena as a strong woman who is not intimidated by evil spirits is refreshing.  Tomb-of-Ligeia-Price

But THE TOMB OF LIGEIA fails to connect on an emotional level.  Price’s Verden isn’t that likeable, and while Shepherd’s Lady Rowena is, she’s not a central enough character to carry the movie on her own.  I don’t really care about these characters, and as a result, I don’t care all that much about what happens to them, which makes for a lackluster movie viewing experience.

THE TOMB OF LIGEIA is a mixed bag, which for Halloween, is OK.  In a trick or treat bag, chances are you’ll get candy you’re not crazy about along with your favorites, but still, it’s candy, and you’re not going to throw it away.  Likewise, THE TOMB OF LIGEIA is a stylish, almost beautiful horror movie that is pleasing to the eye and to the intellect, but not so attractive to the heart.  For those of us who tell tales, the heart can be the difference maker.  Still, it’s Corman, it’s Price, it’s Poe, it’s candy.

It’s Halloween.  Eat up.

(October 2007)