Wednesday, December 28, 2016

In St. Pete's by the shore

Walking early in St. Petersburg this morning, the horizon was an array of colors: gray-blue layered with rows of a pale coral and streaks of pink, sky meeting blue water with a splash of yellows and more pale pinks and oranges reflected.

I've never been here before, so it's a new sky, and in the morning quite I felt calm and detached, kind of what you want in a holiday break. 

There are a few reminders 'tis the season. On one condo building I passed, the balcony railing on one unit was decorated with lights, and an inflatable reindeer decoration stood beside their deck chairs, not Hallmark Movie Christmas, but a vestige. 

The birds were everywhere, more plentiful than tourists or locals, gulls on shore of multiple varieties,  a few geese diving amid the waves and a couple of big birds with what I think of as heron-like features, though I'm not sure of their species. 

The first I ran across tolerated my presence for a while as I snapped pictures on my phone then stepped off the sea wall and strolled away, wanting his privacy and a return to his placidity, I suppose. So it goes.

Christine says the infinity of it all is what's amazing. I suppose that's true. 

There are boundaries out there somewhere across the blue water, but you can't see them from here.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Homework: A Boy and His Dog

Some Harlan Ellison ebook editions were on sale yesterday from Open Road, which prompted a few messages between a friend and I about which ones were available vs. what could be found on the library service Hoopla Digital. A Boy and His Dog, Ellison's 1969 novella, was not on the free list, though it can be found for digital checkout via Hoopla.

All of that started me thinking about the film version again, sort of. I'd been thinking about it a bit because The Witchmaker (1969) produced by character actor L.Q. Jones and TV's Hank Kimball Alvy Moore is streaming via Amazon Prime. It was filmed in Marksville, LA, near where I lived in Central Louisiana, but I'd never had a chance to see it until the streaming. (Interesting drive-in horror flick.)

But that's an aside. My message-chat with my friend prompted me to start digging back through Starlog interviews and letters about A Boy and His Dog, the film from 1975.

Happily Starlog's available for nerd and pop culture research on, and, though I'm late to the table, I ran across a ShoutFactory conversation between Ellison and Jones from 2013. Along with the Starlog articles, it all makes for a nice slice of film history conversation. I realized the various items complement each other and some add clarity to the others. I compiled them all for creative writing students for a Facebook group, but I'll add them here for the convenience of anyone wanting to peruse more on this bit of science fiction cinema.

Here's the 2013 ShoutFactory Backlot sitdown.

Here's L.Q. Jones interviewed by Ed Naha on the 1983 re-release of Dog.

And here's Ellison's letter responding to Jones' points a few issues later.

I did the Googling so you don't have to.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Ollie Dressed Up

We all get ties for Christmas. My cat, Oliver Littlechap, is no exception. 

Monday, October 03, 2016

Dreaded Light

I met screenwriter Mark MacNicol online recently, and he mentioned his work in progress. It's an intriguing film called Dreaded Light.

It's set in Soctland and follows a widowed father and his teenaged daughters and their efforts to cope with grief. At least that's where things start. The title refers to one of the teen's fear of daylight.

Mark talks more about his project on his website here:

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Not So Normal Living Rooms - Streaming Contained Thriller Horror

I like blockbusters as much as the next aging geek. I went to see Jason Bourne on Sunday because I knew it was going to be fun and frenetic. Other than one car chase that goes on from the third act until the next feature time, I was right.

I'm always intrigued also by films that sometimes get dubbed chamber pieces in keeping with theater tradition and terminology for small cast and limited setting.

Those chamber piece films are those that that go the other direction from the blockbuster. Instead of globe hopping, like a lot of TV viewers, they stay in the living room.

Alfred Hitchcock's Rope with it's real time storyline and Leopold and Loeb-inspired psychopaths is a stunning example. I think Hitchcock liked the challenge of developing thrills in tight settings because what are Psycho or Dial M for Murder as well?

I've enjoyed several variations on the streaming services of late, all eerie and effective, never making us feel just like we're stuck on one set but making that one set or location essential. These are some very weird living rooms if you will.

Coherence was conceived apparently in part by James Ward Byrkit as a respite from blockbusters, and it gives us a dinner party on the night of a comet that soon slides into a night of weirdness as it becomes apparent timelines in the many worlds theory are criss-crossing, and mistakes and missed opportunities drive some characters to desperation. 

Time Lapse from Bradley King plays different games with time to good effect. What might be a grim crime drama without its science fiction conceit becomes a cool and compelling nail-biter when three friends (The Flash's Danielle Panabaker, Matt O'Leary and George Finn), one with a gambling addiction, discover a dead scientist who's left behind a camera in his apartment that snaps Polaroids one day in the future. It's aimed at their living room. What can it hurt to post race results in the window?

If movies have taught us anything, it's that men who dabble in the realm of God reap a big and complicated mess.

That's what the heroes of Time Lapse soon discover. Is the camera creating self-fulfilling prophecies, or are other forces at work? Between dangerous bookies, double crosses and the challenge of keeping secrets and sticking to time's rule's, their world's soon awry, and the tale offers many twists and surprises before its revealing conclusion.

The Invitation has been getting just a bit of buzz upon its Netflix debut, and I think it's deserved.

It's the story of Will (Logan Marshall-Green of Prometheus) the grief-stricken father of a child killed by a playmate. He and new love Kira (Emayatzy Corinealdi) are on the way to a reunion with his ex-wife (Tammy Blanchard) and her new husband (Khaleesi boy toy Michael Huisman.) The latter couple met in grief counseling and fled to Mexico for an Est-like (or not) experience that's replaced grief with joy.

Now they want to make amends to Will, so he and a host of old friends have received the invitation to join in, and the evening gets creepier and creepier in a slow burn buildup that engages and refuses to relent. Can any party with John Carroll Lynch as an unexpected guest go any other way, whether or not he's decked out as Twisty the Clown?

These films won't allow just vegging on the sofa, but they will make your living room viewing a bit breathless for a few hours. Check them out via Amazon or Netflix.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Getting a taste of Stranger Things

I've scratched just a bit of the surface of Stranger Things this weekend. I binge, but in doses.

What I've watched so far in the first couple of episodes is intriguing, especially in the creature play. We've seen an eerie silhoutte, but there's still room for mystery. There's a wonderfully kinetic opening in a flickering research facility, but a technician's lunched in the first few heartbeats by something kept off screen.

The characters are really what's keeping me engaged, from Winona Ryder's frantic mom to David Harbour's grieving police chief to a surprisingly malevolent and white-haired Matthew Modine on the mad scientist side of the equation to keep things in balance. 
I noticed Harbour last as one of the twisted killers in the under-rated A Walk Among the Tombstones, so it's interesting to see him as an urban cop who's come to a small town for the quiet only to have that upset by, well, strange things.

Then there are the kids, a nice blend of junior high nerds with ham radio and role-playing on their minds until a friend goes missing, and their creepy guest, a girl with a crew cut. 

There's an '80s vibe as well, of course. I don't know that I'm that nostalgic about that era, but there's a nice feel to the series, and it finds its own niche in a content-rich world, so I think I'll keep the stream open until it's finished.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A wild and weird Robot Excursion - Killer Robots! Crash and Burn

I have to say I'm a bit intrigued by the look of the robots in Leomark's July 15 release The Killer Robots! That's their exclamation mark, but I can't say it's totally unwarranted. AI's a little unsettling to everyone these days.

As the official synopsis puts it, there's "a dimension where living machines battle for supremacy, and those who oppose find only destruction." That can't be good for non-robotic types.

"After meeting their end in a mechanized gladiator arena, four robotic mercenaries - Auto, Max, Strobo and Trog are extracted from a junk pile, rebuilt and recruited as mercenaries for a mysterious organization of android adventurers."

Soon they find themselves on their way to the planet Vidya, "an artificial world ravaged by a computer virus that has sent its robotic inhabitants into a state of primitive barbarism."

The robotic heroes "must make their way through a tumultuous landscape, activate a mysterious communication device, link multiple universes, and bring about a new age of enlightenment and prosperity for a dystopian galactic civilization."

Birthed by a Florida band of the same name, The Killer Robots! looks a little different and "out there" and possibly outré. Here's a trailer:

Written and directed by Sam Gaffin, The Killer Robots! Crash and Burn will be on VOD platforms.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Writing Thoughts: Fear in the Shadows - Notions on Generating Subtle Scares

I had a lot of fun doing a presentation this week called "Fear in the Shadows." I've been developing it and polishing a while now. 

I take a look at subtle horror, partly by focusing on things that have chilled me as a reader. That's pieces by Ray Bradbury, Robert Aickman and others.

The focal piece is the 1902 story from W.W. Jacobs called "The Monkey's Paw," a tale to which I said "meh" when I first read it as a kid. It's deceptively simple, and I don't think my junior high imagination was fully engaging with the story, though its brief arc has always stayed with me.

It was really when I transcribed a portion of it a while back that I came to appreciate its brilliance. Very little is "on stage." Much is in the anticipation of a potentially walking corpse that's in a badly decomposed state...

It gives us something to worry about a bit. Wishes with the monkey's paw of the title always go wrong. It seems to confirm that with the first of three wishes in the story. Then it lets things roll along on a cold dark night.

And possibilities are introduced that let the reader's imagination work, possibilities and a little waiting.

There's a wish, a look out the window but...nothing. Then in the dark hours of the night, there's a sound at the door and then a knock an then a little more, coupled with different opinions on whether to answer or not and other bits of dread.

It was fun to do the presentation for a big room. We turned the lights down and had a campfire-story experience.

What does the story offer? A few points to keep in mind:

Atmosphere...a house that's become cold and dark and isolated.

Something to think about...the son who's been summoned back from the dead has been in the grave a while and was badly injured at the time.

Something to worry about...Monkey's Paw wishes don't turn out so well.

Anticipation...At first there's nothing after the wish, but a little while later there's a sound.

Implication...The sound turns in to a knock at the door, a knock that persists and the clock starts ticking as conflict bills. Do we wish the visitor away or open the door?

Sometimes as Stephen King said in Danse Macabre, you gotta show the monsters.

But maybe it's not a whole story you need to compose but a scene. Could the same elements be deployed? I think we see that in play in the log of the Demeter in Dracula, a small but chilling portion of a bigger tale and in many other effective moments in the horror pantheon.

I'd say try these points somewhere along the way and invite readers or viewers to engage.

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