Confessions of a Horror Lightweight

I have often derided myself as a “lightweight” when it comes to horror movies.  

Many people talk about how horror movies are fun because they let you get frightened in a safe environment.  You get all the fun stuff without any real danger.  And this makes a lot of sense to me.

But I’m one of those people who gets deeply immersed in the virtual world when I’m watching a movie.  On some level, I become part of that world, and I forget that it isn’t real.  Brutal violence leaves me profoundly shaken and it takes me a while to pull myself together afterward.

Lots of gore, body horror, intense personal violence — these things are just not my speed.  I barely made it through the original Evil Dead.  The original Dawn of the Dead left me shaken and weeping.  I had to bail on Hellraiser and Blade II.  I don’t even want to think about the Saw movies.

There are few movies out there which bring enough other valuable stuff to make the distress worthwhile.  A Clockwork Orange and Pan’s Labyrinth come to mind; and I’ve still only been able to watch them once.

But all of that doesn’t mean that I dislike horror movies.  Far from it!

Monster movies, kaiju, the work of studios like Universal in the 1930s through the 1960s, Hammer, Amicus — I love that stuff!  I relish the creepy, the occasionally gruesome, the mysterious, the atmospheric.

If the violence is restrained, or just unrealistic enough that I can abstract myself and remember that what I am seeing is imaginary, then I can get frightened, creeped out, even excited by the possibilities of a mysterious and supernatural world.

I spent several very key years of my childhood in the San Francisco Bay Area and spending my late Friday and Saturday nights watching Creature Features.  It was the late 1970s, and things were quite different from the way they are now:

There was only one “Star Wars” movie.  It was called Star Wars.

Home video games were limited to the brand-new Atari 2600, which with a price tag of over $800 in today’s money, was a toy for the well-off.

It was more or less accepted that smoking was bad for you, but most people did it anyway and it was legal just about everywhere.

Home video recorders didn’t exist.  If you wanted to watch a TV show, you had to plant yourself in front of the set when that show was on.  And you’d better hope no one else in the house wanted to watch something on another channel.  Most folks had only one TV set in the house.

During that time, I often spent Saturday staying over at my best friend’s house.  Sometimes we’d swim in her pool.  Other times we’d play games on the Atari, which I was terrible at.  (Some things don’t change.)  We also played with our Barbie dolls, making up stories that were much more befitting the movies we’d be watching later than the usual clothes, cars and glam stuff.

After dinner, we’d make a batch of chocolate chip cookies, finishing up with one giant cookie each, and took that still warm and gooey treat into the den and settled in to watch Creature Features.

We’d get the tail end of The 10 O’Clock News.  And then came the funky theme music and the decidedly un-funky host, Bob Wilkins.  Unlike many horror hosts, he didn’t go in for costume or schtick, but simply sat in his chair in a spooky old house set, smoking a cigar and telling us a little about the movie we were about to see.

As often as not, he’d caution us that we’d best not expect much.  I don’t remember ever being put off, though.

Our favorites were the Godzilla movies.  We’d make up Godzilla’s dialogue, our own translations of what everyone’s favorite giant radioactive lizard was saying with those weird roars.  Those roars have echoed down through the years and informed a lot of my taste in movies.

Come to think, Godzilla movies (along with You Only Live Twice) were probably my introduction to Japan and Japanese culture, giving me a curiosity which blossomed into full blown fascination when I discovered anime almost a decade later.

We saw lots of other movies on Creature Features too.  Universal monster movies, spooky haunted house flicks, William Castle weirdness, goodness knows what else.  I might have even seen Night of the Living Dead there, although I doubt I made it through the whole thing.

Or maybe I did, and that’s why the movie disturbs me so much to this day.  Who can say?  I certainly can’t.

I probably saw my first Hammer films on Creature Features too, but my strongest memory of a Hammer film comes from the fall of 1984.

I was alone in a college dorm TV room, stitching trim on a cape and watching a movie with the (as it seemed to me at the time) outlandish title of Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter.  Outlandish or not, that movie ended up having a lot of influence on my writing, and still does.

Now that I’ve shared my background, I’d like to contribute more to this blog.  I’ll be offering my takes on some old favorites and new discoveries.  I hope to share an “old school” perspective, and maybe even show how “lightweight” can be exciting, appealing and fun.  

After all, getting a broader perspective can’t hurt — especially when you have to look over your shoulder or into the dark.

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Written: Oct 22, 2015

Zombie Hellhouse By The Side of Cemetery That Dr Freakstein Got All Weird In

For fuck’s sake.  It’s been a year.

I said I was going to keep up, but I didn’t.  Look, it’s just been fucking chaos.  Some good, all sorts of bad.  Even a fracture.

It hasn’t been easy, but we’re trying to keep the faith.  Today, I offer proof. Read the rest of this entry »

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Written: Sep 10, 2015

Lilith, 1998-2008

I thought I should let folks know, in case they had been following.  I’ll get more into it later.  Still shellshocked, myself.

For now, I can tell you this much.  We asked the vets to come out to our place.  They’re accommodating that way, not to mention expensive.  I carried her to her favorite pillow in front of the fireplace.  I sat beside her.  Her head was resting on my knee.  I held her while they prepared the injections, one that would end the fear, another that would end…everything else.

I said sorry.  I said goodbye.  Then she went away.

You think you know how to cope when you’ve been through it before.  The shock.  The loss.  Feeling gravity fail under your feet.  But it’s been hard.  So hard.

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Written: Apr 29, 2008

The Abyss Reopens

Yup.  Back… in all sorts of ways.

When we first found out that Lilith was sick, Jamie and I were too.  That crud that’s been going around ever since the year started?  It nailed Jamie in January, then me in February.  And somewhere in between, Lilith had lymphoma.  Coughing and post-nasal-dripping, we dragged her all over town, looking for a way to stop her pain.   And a way to deal with ours.  To our disbelief, it seemed to work.

We’ve spent the last few months chasing and wrestling with Lilith, dragging her out from under our futon, our closet, or the bed to wrap her up in a towel and ram pills down her throat.  The more effective the pills were, the harder it got.  That part, you already know.

So it’s April now.  The crud, or something like it, hit us again like a freight train.  Jamie was down for days.  Once she got back up, it slammed my ass into the ground.  I’ve had it for a week.  Exhausted.  Wheezing.  Rest and liquids, squeezing in scriptwriting duty while the energy comes to me in drips and drabs, have been my whole life for several days.

And what happens while we’re so tired, so damn weary that we literally crash into bed?  Lilith is in trouble again.  The lymphoma is back, only now it’s… expanding the bridge of her nose.   Her eyes water.   Her nose oozes the same flesh-colored junk.  It’s back and it’s worse.

We’re practically strapped to the wheel of pain, fer crissakes.  Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s too much drama.  But damn it, I’m tired.  The weariness goes down to the heartmeat core.  I knew her disease was going to return sooner or later, that it was going to win somehow.  But did it have to be like this… when we’re all running on fumes, feeling that we’ve been going around, tracing the same ouroborus path, back to the end and starting again, left to wonder what was the point?

Strange thing, though.  When we were first confronting Lilith’s mortality, the knowledge torn us apart.  Jamie and I talked and talked, going over the same ground for days, uncertain about… everything.  We weren’t sure if we’d done enough or whether we’d done the right things.   Now, three months later, we already know the outcome.  Jamie might feel the pressure, I’m not sure.  But I certainly don’t.  I feel sad of late, but rock solid accepting.  We know what to do; and that there isn’t much else we can do.  We don’t have any doubts.  I’m not sure whether we even have room for regret.

Actually… I think we do.  We don’t want Lilith to go away.

But she will.  We took the time to deal with that.  And now we deal with it again.

Her time is almost up.  It’ll be soon.

Maybe today.

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Written: Apr 16, 2008

Updates, quandries, and other noises

I noticed it had been a while since I posted.  And I basically left people hanging on a dark note there.

Catz, catz, catz!
A frequent refrain in our household.  Usually mine.

Anyway, Lilith has actually improved.  We can’t afford chemotherapy for her (it sounds nasty, but reportedly cats respond to chemo much better than humans do), so we went with more conventional medication.  Shortly after I posted my lament of woe-squared, we got some prescriptions for her,  an antibiotic and a steroid, that are supposed to boost her immune system.

We chop the pills to the right dosages and fit them together into gelatin capsules.  That way, we only have to ram one big pill down her gullet while she’s spitting and clawing her way out.  We got used to her being so weak, offering no resistance.  Now we wrap her up in a thick towel.  The minor — but many — bites and scratches snapped us back to reality.  Bactine:  the sweet nectar of success.

Well, that and seeing her.  Her coat and her eyes shine.  She talks more than ever, not so much “meow” as squeak, cranky squeak, and terrified squeal!  She jumps around like crazy, bumping our legs, bounding across the apartment, maintaining her regular security patrols, and watching birds from the window sill with laser light intensity.  In short, she’s acting like a kitten again.

But sometimes she lets out a loud violent sneeze.  And it’s enough to stop my heart for a second.

I keep thinking about a line from Blade Runner, probably the most important one:  “It’s too bad she won’t live!  But then again, who does?”

LJ Uber-drama
I’m sure everyone else has heard about this by now.  Certainly lots of blog postings out there.  Some of them are even useful.

I’m not going to get into all the back-and-forth, the horribly translated Russian interviews with the Powers That Be, the yay’s or nays (deliberate word choice) regarding the big boycott on Good Friday, or any of that.  My understanding of the whole thing boils down to a few simple things:

  1. LJ intends to close up the no-cost, ad-free Basic Account level.
  2. They didn’t intend to let anyone know about it.
  3. They were also caught censoring user interests, rendering them invisible on key listings.
  4. They have now fostered a hostile relationship with their customers — and their content — for several months.
  5. There’s no sign that it’s going to stop.

On the first point… sad, I guess.  But it happens.  It’s a business.  They have to make money, yadda yadda.  That’s a fair complaint.  If they had just said so, and not resorted to item number two, people would grump, but eventually deal.  Look at DeadJournal.  I bitched, but I moved on.  And they’re still around.

But it’s the last three items that give me and Jamie pause.  And how many times has LJ gone to war with its customers over content — two times? three?  — in the current management’s first 100 days at the helm?

Content issues are a big deal for us.  It’s not just a hobby for us.  This is our business.  We have to make money too.  We do an audiodrama show that’s clearly, loudly, proudly not for everybody.  How long will it be before LJ has a problem with us?

We’re really busy now.  We don’t need this kind of grief now.  I’m working on several scripts, some of the Willamette Radio Workshop, some for Afterhell.  I’m mixing a new episode fast as I can, when I’m not writing, collapsing from fatigue, fielding family emergencies, or trying to medicate cats.  Deadlines are looming close behind.

So we’re left with two choices.  Pray that LiveJournal never comes after us.  Or take Afterhell off of LiveJournal ourselves.

We’re preparing to move the Afterhell blog.

I’ll be cross-posting this elsewhere.

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Written: Mar 25, 2008

I Look Into The Abyss… And It Can Bite Me

It’s a good thing that leap years come only every four years.  Judging from the month I’ve had, I wouldn’t survive it.

Oh jeez, I hear somebody say, what could possibly be so bad?  You get to surf the net, eat bonbons, and watch “Tiny Toons” all day in the comfort of your own home.

Odds are that the folks who keep up on my little rantings already know.  Well, some of the info might be new to somebody, so be patient while the dorks in the back catch up with the rest of the class.

There’ve been a few family emergencies.  My father has Alzheimer’s.  Jamie and I made a point to drive a few hundred miles to visit him over Christmas.  We said hello.  He led us around the house in his walking frame (my God, he needs a walker now) giving us candies and tangerines and words of wisdom that occasionally made their points clear.

He’s so frail now.  He’d had a bad fall months ago, and his growing dependence on others depresses him.  One minute he curses everybody for hovering over him.  In quieter moments, when they’re not around, he calls them a blessing…and cries.  And yes, his thoughts wander.  He rambles.  But he did that even at the height of his powers.

One thing that’s definitely new:  He’s like a kid, getting into mischief.  Months ago, he had an ongoing battle with a KFC near his house, badgering them about their lousy service, forcing the manager to placate him with a fistful of gift certificates.  This morning, my sister e-mailed me that he’d just eaten a whole box of tangerines and gotten himself sick.

I’m gonna lose him.  Seeing him deteriorate, seeing the difference in just six months, shook me harder than any storm.  It made an abstract certainty real.  He was a well-intentioned brute when I was a kid.  I’d always felt like Bilbo Baggins facing Smaug in his lair whenever he called me to his room.  Every fourth Saturday, he spanked me with a belt.  He once tore my shirt, balled up his fist, and tried to deck me.  When I was eighteen, he threw me out of the house because I hadn’t taken the garbage out, first thing in the morning.  But all the grudges seem pointless when he’s so fragile.  Now he’s like chipped, faded china.  I’m…gonna lose him.

Yeah, I know.  Old people go mental and die all the time.  Newsflash, it’s always different when it’s yours.  And you’re never ready.

Another case in point.  My second best friend is dying.  It’s just a cat, so who cares, right?  I mean, ten to fifteen years is a good run for a cat.  I knew that when we first took her in.  Ten years ago.

Her name is Lilith (for the mythological character, not the one on “Cheers,” so for God’s sake, world, please stop asking.)  She’s a black domestic shorthair, a classic Halloween cat.  She chose me.  I’d chosen several cats as pets over the years.  This one chose me.  I didn’t know cats ever did that.  She ran up my body, planted herself on my chest, where she did that kneading, “making biscuits” thing.

She has lymphoma, deep in her left nostril.  It’s growing well beyond it.  For a while, it was so bad that she held her head up, her dark face coated in snot, gulping down air, struggling to breathe.  We took her to a specialist who performed a rhinoscopy, taking some of the tissue out for analysis.

The preliminary results.  The preponderance of evidence.  The how fucking burned out I am, watching Lilith sleep longer and longer, knowing I could look forward to weeks of watching her fade away.

The rhinoscopy has actually helped her. I hoped it would, but didn’t expect this.  Her nose bled a little, but she could breathe.  She’s relaxed, become more energetic.  Last week, when the early results were in, I slept sitting up because Lilith wanted to sleep between my feet for the first time in weeks.  At first I couldn’t sleep at all.  I figured I should savor it while we both had the strength.  I stayed up.  Cried a few times.  Quietly, so I wouldn’t wake her or Jamie up.

I get on with my day.  I want to do something more productive than feel wounded, angry, or powerless.  Look at me.  I’m so productive.

Oh, and that e-mail from my sister.  Something else she told me:  My uncle Fred died yesterday.

My father is down to two tangerines a day.

Lilith sleeps.

I’m tired.  Haven’t been sleeping well.

Other than that, everything’s fine here, situation normal.  No, really, everything’s perfectly all right now, we’re fine, we’re all fine here now, thank you… how are you?

Comments: 0
Written: Feb 21, 2008

The Sound of Silence

Warnock’s Dilemma.  Do you ever get this?

Make a posting, add a comment on a message thread, and get no response.   Putting your two cents in, and getting a fistful of Confederate money back.  Opening your mouth, only to have a seagull poop right down yer gob from five klicks up.

Type out some thoughts.  Think it through carefully.  You’re pretty sure you’re not writing a flame, just speaking your mind, elaborating on a thought.  Maybe you get somebody thinking.  Maybe you’ll get corrected on a point.  You’re not sure.  Type out some stuff and hit  “send.”  The discussion stops dead.  It’s like opening an airlock, seeing all the bloated, dead bodies on the other side, and wondering, “Gee, did I do that?” Or maybe they knew you were coming and decided to off themselves out of spite.  Again, you’re not sure.  Being dead, they’re not talking.  Not even a note.

So yeah…Warnock’s Dilemma.  You ever get that?

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Written: Jan 15, 2008

It was 19 years ago today….

…late one Saturday night, she who is

and I became an item. We got engaged a month later and were married two years after that.

These last few days, especially this day in this year, have been sad ones. And this choice is especially, unexpectedly, bitterly fitting.

But here we are, left to make the best of it.

“And So It Goes”
written by Billy Joel
Storm Front (1989)

In every heart there is a room
A sanctuary safe and strong
To heal the wounds from lovers past
Until a new one comes along

I spoke to you in cautious tones
You answered me with no pretense
And still I feel I said too much
My silence is my self defense

And every time I’ve held a rose
It seems I only felt the thorns
And so it goes, and so it goes
And so will you soon I suppose

But if my silence made you leave
Then that would be my worst mistake
So I will share this room with you
And you can have this heart to break

And this is why my eyes are closed
It’s just as well for all I’ve seen
And so it goes, and so it goes
And you’re the only one who knows

So I would choose to be with you
That’s if the choice were mine to make
But you can make decisions too
And you can have this heart to break

And so it goes, and so it goes
And you’re the only one who knows

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Written: Apr 16, 2007

A Descent into the Maelstrom

Been a while since I posted.  Afterhell is keeping me busy.

For those I haven’t kept in the loop, I decided to make the big plunge and get a MacBook to do my own sound editing.  I try not to talk about it much.  I don’t want the grief that comes with the user interface wars. I don’t want to hear about how great it is that I’m “leaving the Dark Side” or “making the big switch.”  If I wanted to hear that kind of crap, I’d hang out with neocons.

Meanwhile, for the last week or so, one thought has been haunting me, for want of a better word.  Nothing critical, nothing earth-shattering or cosmically important.  Just a memory.

An episode of the new Battlestar Galactica series brought it back for me.  It’s been a few weeks, so I figured it’s fairly safe to mention it now.

At one point, Starbuck flashbacks on the day she told her mother that she’d become an officer.  Proud, quiet moment.  She’s the first in her family to do it.  She was in the top five of her class (or something to that effect.)

Then her mother says, “Why weren’t you number one?”  Starbuck’s face just collapses.  Crushed.  Confused.

My father once did the same thing to me.

Hard to believe.  After all these years, I’m still going down in flames.

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Written: Mar 12, 2007

Gratuitous blog meme!!!!

Right, let’s remind everyone I’m still alive, neh?

Courtesy of cyber_istari and ayeshalan:

• Bold all of the following TV shows which you’ve ever seen 3 or more episodes of in your lifetime.
• Bold and italicize a show if you’re positive you’ve seen every episode of it.
• If you want, add up to 3 additional shows (keep the list in alphabetical order). (Mine are marked with an *)

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Written: Jul 28, 2006