Thursday, May 31, 2007

Netflix Watch Now and Dreams in the Witch House

The Netflix "Watch Now" option appeared almost magically for me last night. Christine was watching a PBS show on the art of quilting in the den, you see.

I believe the option was available for me for the first time, although Hacking Netflix--an excellent source for all things Netflix-- noted the feature's gradual rollout began in January.

Apparently there are about 1,000 selections available so far.

I decided to try a 54-minute entry from the Masters of Horror series, Stuart Gordon's take on H.P. Lovecraft's "Dreams in the Witchouse." I'd been meaning to get around to more installments from that series for a while. (I've seen the Joe Lansdale episode and the John Landis effort and a few others.)

The Netflix viewer provided the best online streaming I've encountered--better than NBC's and ABC's. I got few blips, few slowdowns, and it offered a sharp picture that worked at full screen. It was near DVD quality from what I could tell on my monitor and with the current quality of my vision.

Looks like it might be a great way to whittle down my queue.

The episode is an interesting one, updated and modified a bit from the original short story and infused with Gordon gruesomeness. It didn't rival the banned-from-Showtime Takashi Miike entry, but I'd give it a not-for-the-squeamish ranking nonethless.

Among the interesting touches: The student renter of the witch-haunted room uses a laptop to explore the strange architecture of his rooming house.

Maybe I'll watch a few more "Masters" installments. Looks like most of the first season is available. There's a time to rental-plan ratio so one-hour shows are a positive proposition in a couple of ways.

The down side - well that's one more thing to distract me from writing.

(No rights to image implied.)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What's on the iPod - The Tennessee Stud and Memories

Sometimes on shuffle my iPod dredges up songs and memories I'd forgotten.

This morning, "The Tennessee Stud" from one of Johnny Cash's American albums clicked into play.

It reminded me of my old man, as many things do these days.

He'd hum the "Tennessee Stud" when he bounced me on his knee, and he had a dozen variations of the bounce.

He'd identify the types of horses, and raise and lower his knee differently for each.

I don't remember all, though I remember the Tennesse Walker was a vibrant variety and I think I'd almost tumble off the bronc.

And yeah, I found a lyric that applied to old man - He had the nerve and he had the blood.

Never was a horse like the Tennessee Stud and no one had an old man like my old man.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Horror Movie Review: Dark Corners

A long time ago I wrote a piece at epinions on my favorite perplexing films, flicks that demand a little more than gasps from the viewer.

I don't know that I would add Dark Corners written/directed by Ray Gower to my favorites, but it's certainly a demanding little chiller that I now think I understand thanks to the message board on Internet Movie Database.

I was interested in it first because I read a synopsis when production was announced a while back. The gist of that description was that Thora Birch would play a young woman who wakes up one morning to discover she is a different person, a person pursued by strange beings in London.

That film has yet to be made. Dark Corners is a Japanese-influenced psychological thriller, surreal and imaginative and chilling in a subtle way.

Ms. Birch plays Susan Hamilton (blonde) and Karen Clarke (brunette).

Susan's world is one of light, a glowing suburban existence in which she and husband David (Christien Anholt) are struggling with infertility.

Susan's light is plagued by darkness, a grunge world she enters when she dreams and becomes Karen, who lives in a grim little apartment and works as a mortician's assistant.

The paralell worlds are lighted and photographed as incredible polarities, making for very interesting visuals.

A serial killer is stalking both universes and both Susan and Karen are exposed to the brutality.

Toby Stephens (who battled 007 so wowingly in Die Another Day) is Susan's psychicatrist who seeks to purge the dreams of Karen.

The key to it all, if the I believe accurate assessments on imdb.com are to be trusted, is in Susan's statement that hell is having all of one's dark corners exposed.

I can't promise that this is the best horror film you'll ever view, but after you watch and think about it a little you realize it rises above the standard-issue chiller.

Check it out and see if you agree.

Order from Amazon

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Six Degrees of Scott Baio

My co-worker mentioned two things outside my door the other day. A.) She doesn't watch many scary movies and B.) She likes Scott Baio.

She was wondering whatever happened to him.

"If you watched scary movies," I said, "you'd have seen him in Cursed."

"Is it a big role?"

"Kind of an aside," I said. "He played himself."

Long after that discussion I remembered I have a six degress of separation from Scott Baio story.

I've told the story here before about the round about way one of my comic books got reviewed (but not optioned) by 20th Century Fox, but I've never written down the tale of how Scott Baio's brother's producing partner came to call me for a copy of my first novel, Azarius.

I went to high school with Faith Ford, and her also talented sister, Suzonne, for that matter, and our families knew each other and thus their folks knew me.

After Faith went away to New York and later Hollywood, once her character was murdered on Another World, somewhere along the way she met an actor named Johnny Venocur.

When Faith came back to Louisiana for her wedding in the late '80s, Johnny called her house to wish her well and wound up talking to her mom and telling her he had partnered with Steven Baio and they were interested in making horror movies.

Faith's mom told him he should look me up because Azarius was fairly recently out at that point. He actually gave me a call. (I seem to remember it was at my desk at the newspaper so he probably called my dad's number and received a referral from him. My dad was about as free with my work number as he was my unlisted home number.)

So anyway, I talked to Johnny who was a nice guy, and I sent him a copy of my book and despite the length of this post that was pretty much the long and the short of it. I suppose Azarius called for too many special effects.

As Kurt Vonnegut might say - "So it goes."

Years later, when it finally occurred to me to check the Internet Movie Database--to my credit they had to invent it first--I found Johnny and Steven did produce Evil Laugh and Hard Rock Nightmare right around the time we talked.

If things had turned out a little differently there might have been a B movie with my name on it in the rental bends.

And I might have even met Scott Baio, don't you know?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Zombie Ads

Microsoft has combined two things I like--zombies and cool advertising---in a new spot appearing in tech magazines.

Touting Microsoft Forefront® enterprise security software , the ad features a guy clearly from the IT department facing down a hoard of undead attackers. (I'm no bigger fan of Microsoft than the next guy, but I do appreciate creativity.)

The message notes it's easy to stop zombies, lumbering, brainless oafs that they are, and even easier to prevent malware on a network with Forefront.

It's a great approach for the message's audience.

No doubt inspired by The Zombie Survival Guide, World War Z and the "Living Dead" franchise, the ad points to a supporting website, easyeasier.com.

It's a microsite requiring a fast connection, and one flaw I see is that there's not a clever time-killing icon to occupy you during the download.

Otherwise the website provides lots of fun as it dramatizes and expounds upon the zombie-fighting pointers from the ad such as "4. Find a weapon, any weapon." The funny bits culminate with a sales pitch about Forefront and options for additional info on the software.

I've only seen the zombie print ad but the site features other enemies, so I suspect more ads with a James Bond-style spy, a gray alien and a Ninja will be coming in future issues of Network World.

That I shall look forward to.

Addendum
An omission: I should have noted earlier that the new Forefront campaign was created by Mccann Worldgroup.


(No rights to image implied.)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Lost: Interruptions

One of the most interesting things about watching the fabulous "Lost" finale-- "Through the Looking Glass" --last night was that the local weatherman seemed to have learned a valuable lesson.

I wish I had the citation, but a while back now, Christine read an article in The New York Times Magazine, I believe, noting that local TV stations have invested heavily in their weather radar systems and love opportunities to trot them out.

That of course leads to overwrought reporting. "Get in your back yard and dig, dig for your lives!" the weatherman's given to shout on cloudy days. "A storm cellar is your only hope when the orange and green Rorshack pattern reaches our area! Go now!"

So anyway, couple of weeks ago an episode of "Lost" called "The Brig" was the offering of the evening. Unfortunately it got cloudy around the time the show was set to begin.

The weatherman came on the air right around the end of the re-run of the previous week's episode and started talking about where it might begin to rain next.

He put up video of what the station's parking lot had looked like minutes earlier. I'm not sure why. Basically you could see a few branches waving in the breeze.

Lost hope
As the top of the hour neared, Christine asked me to stop suggesting so loudly that the weatherman was overweight and that his parents might not have been legally wed.

As minutes ticked by it became apparent he had no plans to shut up in time for us to find out how things were going with Locke.

I finally gave up and bought the episode the next day from iTunes. I'm easy going except when I'm not.

So anyway, flash forward ;-) and last night, minutes until the finale was to start, thunderstorms started rolling through our area.

Miracles
Miraculously, there was a crawl across the bottom of the screen, and a tiny little weather map, but no interruption.

The show began and played on without a hitch. Then at a commercial break! the weatherman came on and said: "Don't worry you won't miss any of `Lost' but I thought you'd like to know there's a Queen Mother of a thunderheadabout to hit Smithburg."

They gave up commercial air time. Apparently some people didn't reserve their remarks for their living rooms.

And the station listened. Democracy in action.

They finally figured out interrupting a vastly popular serial drama--known for its surprises and plot twists--with trivialities is not a way to win the hearts and minds of the viewership.

And that was danged near as cool as Hurley driving the VW microbus to the rescue!

More from G.P. Taylor and other dark fantasy from the Isles

I was pleasantly surprised to get an e-mail from G.P. Taylor in response to yesterday's blog post, thanking me for the mention and updating me on some other books with a few URLs to visit.

There's a recently released (in the U.S.) sequel to Shadowmancer called The Curse of Salamander Street.

He also has a new series featuring Mariah Mundi with the first title being The Ghost of the Prince Regent.

That info along with news yesterday from Variety that Skulduggery from Irish author Derek Landry is being tapped for a film franchise by Warner Bros. suggests there's a lot of great dark fantasy coming from the British Isles, perhaps aimed at young readers but fun for all fans of the fantastic.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Faithful Horror

My boss gave me a gift card as a bonus for the on-site producing of a new wave of television commercials, hard work that's exhilerating at the same time and apparently something I have a bit of affinity for even though it's not the creative side of the effort. I got a gift from the ad agency we work with also as a thank you, so this has not been too bad an experience.

The interesting twist is that my gift card is from a religious book store chain, you know, one of the ones where all the DVDs star Gary Busey.

I predict I will still have some interesting titles to browse in the fiction section.

I own one book by G.P. Taylor, Shadowmancer, a dark fantasy set in the 17th century. I actually bought it in Dublin and now I believe there are several more books by Taylor, an Anglican priest who's also penned a sequel to Shadowmancer and Wormwood an 18th-century tale of a Cabalist.

Then there's bestselling author Ted Dekker who is sort of the Dean Koontz of Christian fiction. I liked his Thr3e. Another, Obsessed, dragged a little in the middle, to me, as the protagonist struggled repeatedly to gain access to secret information in a villain's basement, but it picked up in the end. I'm always intrigued by Dekker's thematic examinations though I understand they are being toned down in order to further crossover into mainstream.

I also understand there's a book called House by Dekker and Christian horror author Frank Peretti who's always an interesting and intelligent writer. I enjoyed his book, The Oath, about a Judeo-Christian demon aroused by the formation of a utopian society.

All in all there should be enough to let me spend my gift money.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Horror movie marketing

An interesting article on low-budget horror film marketing is featured on the Advertising Age website today.

It focuses on the controversy that swirled around billboards for Captivity but also examines Saw, Eli Roth movies and the box-office failure of The Reaping.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

What's Not on the iPod

Christine has been humming "Comfortably Numb" since "Kennedy and Heidi" ran Tony and Cris-tuh-fur off the road Sunday night on "The Sopranos." Yep, along with "Lost" and "24" we're watching the final season of "The Sopranos" live rather than delayed by DVR.

That means we've had to keep quiet for friends who are viewing The S's on further delay such as DVD. Perhaps knowing a secret has contributed to my, my, my brown-eyed girl's obsession with the CN version from "The Departed" soundtrack--of which Christopher had a bootleg copy of course--rendered by Roger Waters with Van Morrison/The Band rather than Pink Floyd.

Its a soothing tune, a bit like church as Brian Williams notes, but humming has had to suffice so far because like the title song from "Veronica Mars" and a few other annoying examples, the Morrison and The Band rendition at least the 7 plus minute version on "The Departed" is not a 99 cent download.

You can only get it if you pop for the whole album, "The Departed: Music From the Motion Picture" not to be confused with "The Departed Original Score."

While it's savvy marketing, that's a bit annoying, especially since it's a rare case of a large, shared social soundtrack produced by a pop cultural event. Most of the time we as a people are more fragmented these days.

We'll spring for the album by the end of the week, I predict, but that's the kind of thing Christine has to cogitate on a while first, tightwad that she. I just would have liked to have had it sooner.

Sorry this post has more cross references than an annotated Joyce novel, but that's what's on my mind.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Stories are the most important thing in the world

At the official site for the His Dark Materials trilogy (of which The Golden Compass is being adapted for film), the "about the author" on the creator Philip Pullman features a wonderful epigram at the outset of his biography:

"Stories are the most important thing in the world. Without stories, we wouldn't be human beings at all."

That's certainly bold but it sums up what I've believed for a long time, and the coda validates the boldness.

Stories certainly do make us human just as they reflect our humanity. What would we be without Arthur or Gilgamesh? More importantly would we be where we are?

Though the passage to biblical scholars is fraught with more complex meaning, authors are fond of invoking John 1:1 "In the beginning was the Word..."

And it's true, the word is what carries forward, preserves and analyzes culture.

Pullman's is a wonderful thought and well worth sharing.

Go tell the Spartans.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Swords - and the day that we met

Me and short story author Robert "Wild Man" Petitt, who's MIA these days but I believe still kickin', walked into a bar.

Actually it was a hotel bar in New Orleans, and we were hanging around the old New Orleans Science Fiction and Fantasy Festival, an annual party we used to all go to.

As we shared a couple of beers the first edition of "Hot Blood" came up. Robert and I were talking over one rather wild story included in that anthology.

Guy a couple of stools down heard us and allowed he'd read that story too and thought it was a wild trip. That guy was Charles Gramlich and we've been friends ever since.

You probably read about his newest book on his blog, but I thought I'd add a banner and a mention here for surfers who might not have our blogs in common. (Or as an extra nudge to those who do.)

I have not read it yet, but I can testify that he his a fine writer, a true lover of swords and sorcery, and I can tell you his tale "Dark Wind," which he donated to animal welfare recently features action-packed prose that is stylish and fabulous.

I'm sure the trilogy which "Swords" begins is penned with the same devotion to excellence and the same love of myth and magic.

If Bayou Bob Petitt was here he'd say Check it Out.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Lost: Looking at the Foreshadowing

OK, spoiler alert if you haven't watched the Lost episode "The Man Behind the Curtain." Seriously, Charles you really need to rent the DVDs.
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The foreshadowing would suggest Locke's not going to die:

1. In recent episodes, even though we've suspected it for a while, characters have highlighted the fact that people heal quickly on the island, most notably Patchy when he was treating Naomi.
2. The Others were a bit in awe of Locke's healing capacity, which seems strong even for the island.
3. There was a close up of his father biting him, and his hand healing quickly from that wound.
4. Yeah, I know Libby died but she was gut shot and could barely talk. Ditto Ana Lucia. Locke and Ben were having a whole conversation. (Right before the bad news I was thinking turning his back on Ben couldn't have been a good idea.)
5. Sounded like a lung, Naomi got over a lung.

I could be wrong, but somebody in the writer's room went to a lot of trouble to hammer those points.

P.S. I think Ben missed some people in the Swan hatch when the killer gas was released.

Time will tell, but I wanted to get this on record in case I'm right. If I'm wrong? This post will be deleted, baby!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Favorite Stories: Don't Look Now by Daphne du Maurier

(On this eve of The Daphne du Maurier International Centenary Conference, it seems an appropriate time to discuss another of my favorite horror short stories.)

I was introduced to the works of Daphne du Maurier at my aunt's house on a visit. She had a book club edition of The Scapegoat in which a man becomes the dupe of his identical twin.

I knew nothing of Rebecca at that point nor of the author's short stories including "The Birds" which have an even darker tone than her novel-length thrillers which frequently attracted Alfred Hitchcock.

"Don't Look Now" is of course the basis for an intriguing, eerie thriller directed by a different auteur, Nicholas Roeg, most notorious for its extended, steamy love scene between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie.

That scene stems from a single sentence in the source material, but it's generally a faithful adaptation of du Maurier's short story of a couple vacationing in Venice and vicinity. (In the film it's a working vacation as the husband works on a church restoration project. Incidentally there's word that a remake is coming, but why?)

In the story it's simply a holiday and a somber one as the couple copes with the death of a daughter. One son remains in boarding school, but the loss of their little girl has been devastating to the wife, Laura. The "girl meant everything," notes John, the husband.

The story opens with the couple making jokes about elderly twin sisters at a nearby restaurant table, but Laura's encounter with one of the twins who is blind and claims to be psychic sends their holiday on a strange, eerie course.

It is a story of questions. Is the blind twin really seeing the spirit-world version of the lost daughter as she claims. Or is she a con artist?

John is skeptical, but as they wander old world streets, they catch site of a child who could be a ghostly version of their daughter.

Everything is interrupted by word that their son is in need of appendicitis surgery. They decide Laura will go home immediately, and John will follow with their car.

But as he returns to their hotel, John sees Laura on a passing boat with the twins and begins a frantic search to find hear amid rumors that a "maniac" is prowling the city.

The ending comes with a pair of twists, one odd and bizarre, and evokes an eerie, unsettling chill.

I like the tale because it's like many of those pieces that's more than it seems at a glance. It offers strong mood and perplexes. It's quiet horror to be sure, one of those tales that keeps you contemplating long after you've finished it.

(Pictured is the short story collection I own, which includes both "Don't Look Now" and "The Birds.")

Friday, May 04, 2007

In the Box of Secret Memories

Not long after my father died, my mother's memory deteriorated, and Christine and I were unexpectedly faced with dealing with her things as we moved her into a higher level of assisted living.

It was sifting through the accumulation of a lifetime and what I wrote of it at the time was tearful. It was a difficult time, one we often said we would look back upon wondering how we got through it. And we do.

Christine was trying on a ring earlier that reminded me of one of the lighter moments of the experience. It was a possibly antique ring with a blue stone that was then nestled amid a box of costume jewelry.

When Christine discovered it, we knew it was not something for donation or estate sale because of its beauty, though it probably had no high value.

The discovery prompted Christine to look a little more carefully through the old necklaces and earrings.

Delving a little deeper she found a piece that intrigued her. It had some silver with a strong shine, but she turned it one way and then the other unable to figure out what it might be.

Finally she held it out toward me because I'd commented on memories of times and events at which some of the items had been worn.

"What is this?" she asked.

I looked at it for a second and flipped it over so she could see and understand that it was out of context.

"It's a dental partial," I explained.

And for a few moments of laughter the somber mood was lifted.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Lost: Gendarmerie

(Contains spoilers if you're waitng for the DVD, blink now.)
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When I caught just the glimpse of the "Sawyer" file Locke was reading on Lost's "The Brig," I knew I'd be visiting Lost Eastereggs for a better view this a.m..

Gendarmerie's certainly an interesting hint of something more. I didn't know what a gendarmerie was until I visited Wikipedia--a "military body charged with police duties among civilian populations."

Does Dharma/Hanso/Mittelos have not just people keeping tabs but an entire secret army at work in the world off the island?

Is that something I missed with I started to lose interest in the Lost Experience?

I continue to be amazed at the wonderful tidbits sprinkled throughout "Lost."

I know there's been a lot of "Lost" bashing, but I remain optimistic that a fabulous master work is unfolding.

Even an obvious revelation like last night's identity/cross was handled deftly and with twists to make it satisfying.

I'm staying on for the ride.
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