Oct
22

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.

Comments: 0
Written: Oct 22, 2015
Sep
10

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 »

Comments: 0
Written: Sep 10, 2015
Jul
14

Stop Whining, Start Running

So what happened to Afterhell?

Did anyone notice that we were gone?  Or that we were ever here?

Yeah, that’s right.  I’m feeling defensive about the whole thing.

I’ve been putting off this post, figuring that it would be hard to explain the long absence to an invisible audience.  I know three people are out in the ether, following all this.  And they already know most of the details.

But I’m also aware of the trolls, griefers, and spammers out there.    You know, the ones with the knives out.  And beyond them lies a vast, cold indifference.

So is there a point in saying anything?  I wondered.  For a long time.

I took too long.  I know that.  So yeah.  Feeling defensive.  And embarrassed.  Bitter.  Feeling lost at sea.  Most of all, I feel like walking wounded.

Bear with me.  If you want me to answer the question of “where were we,” keep reading.  Follow the white rabbit.

Short version:  Ollin Productions has been a troubled house.  We suffered many personal losses, a few professional ones, and it fell hard.  Now we’re doubling our efforts.

Shorter rude version:  Fuckyou youdontknowwhatIvebeenthrough wherethehellwereyouwhenallthisshitwasgoingon

Sorry, I had to get out of my system.  Let’s do the long version.

A lot of things went wrong.  Not everything.  Just a lot.

For Ollin Productions.  For Afterhell.  For me and Jamie.  In the end, they all mean the same thing.

Or so I thought.  That was the first problem.  The big one.  I’ll save that for the end.

The perfect storm for us was death.  Not the boogeyman we flirt with in horror fiction.  Every few months, for four fucking years, death ran through our extended family like a wave.

First it was my father.  Four of my aunts.  My cousin.  Over six weeks, all of our cats died.  A dead cat every two weeks, like some twisted subscription service.  Then Jamie’s uncle.  To say nothing about all the heroes, icons, and inspirational figures — but those fine people didn’t tuck us in or hug us by the shoulder while saying, “Welcome to the family.”  They were background radiation compared to all this.

After months and months of shellshock and grey days regardless of the sun, Jamie and I were left empty.  We knew.  We’d suffer loss before.  But this felt like war.  We were losing.  And we were trying so hard not to surrender — to find a deep enough bottle and never come out.

Seriously, Death.  I’ve long suspected you were beautiful and well-meaning even before Neil Gaiman stuck his fine nose in.  But seriously, Death, fuck you.

Christ, I’m still crying.

And considering how many times Afterhell had been written off, dismissed, publicly mocked, literally thrown back in my face…  honestly, would you have bothered to keep it going?

Even for a shoestring production, Afterhell is an intimate process.  Friends were brought together and separated by personal concerns, not market forces.  There was no business plan.  No concern about mainstream radio or podcasting (which was bleeding edge tech at the time.)  And no awareness of online communities that might like us, shag us, or throw us over a cliff.

We found out later that most of them would do all three.

Old Time Radio groups glommed onto us, only to disavow us because our horror wasn’t corny and our sound was too digital.

The Horror Writers Association dismissed us out of hand because our work is self-produced and uncommissioned.  Self-published horror comics are okay, but fuck audio.

Audiodrama discussion groups romanced us like codependent partners from hell, openly courting us and avowing their undying friendship, then squelching any difference of opinion.  Quantity over quality and mutual admiration societies.  Otherwise?  Yerrrr out.

Real audiodramatists, professional artists instead of fanfic writers, embraced us until they realized our content wasn’t family friendly or sufficiently highbrow.  “You’re a great writer, but sorry, Afterhell is out.”  BOOT.

And I won’t even get into radio programming directors.

I once called horror audio fiction the crazy aunt locked in the basement.  That’s how Afterhell is treated.  Sometimes it sucks to be right.

So I really didn’t think anyone would notice whether we’d gone away.

I don’t say this to rationalize our non-existent turnout.  We haven’t produced new episodes in years.  Or blogged.  Or tweaked code.  Hell, I’ve gone months without looking at the damn site.

Remember the worst part?  Here it is.  The clincher.  The nail in the coffin.

I was the only member of Ollin Productions who wanted Afterhell to happen.  Jamie was done with it.

It wasn’t just the grief.  Jamie was never really into it.  She gets vampires (old school vamps, none of that Twilight crap) and Lovecraftian horror to some extent.  Between the extreme content and the public disapproval, she walked away from Afterhell.

Before someone gets mad at her, let me tell you something.  I was on the verge of doing the same.

But I’m getting so damn tired of crappy horror.  Sturgeon’s Law probably applies.  It usually does.  But instead of demanding better, horror fans embrace the crap.

No, I mean it.  We applaud the gore and the cheese.  We’re making deliberately shitty meals out of all the gore and cheese.  Not tolerating lackluster production values for the sake of a fun story.  Just eating the shit sandwich.

Zombie stories are everywhere.  A dime a dozen.  Ripping off Max Brooks or George Romero doesn’t cut it.  Stupid people doing stupid things for the sake of the plot is stupid.  And vampires are worse.  Whether it sparkles or splatters, the characters and the story they’re have to be interesting, people.

And making them interesting takes a lot more effort than it seems.  And fewer creators are making the effort.

Look at The Strain.  Or better yet, don’t.

Instead, just read it.  You’ll find intriguing, sympathetic people in a crisis.  The absentee father who chases plagues.  The married couple, lonely and growing apart while passion still gnaws at them.  The grieving vampire hunter, haunted by the depths of true evil.

Watch the premiere episode and you’ll get bored.  And irritated.  It feels like some droning lecture masquerading as a puppet show.  Stuff happens and there’s no one to care about.  Only divas and dimwits.

Where’s the likeable, driven scientist?  We get a pushy, self-important jerk who kisses and pats his son like a puppy.  There’s a vamp hunter and he’s kind of tragic.  He’s sharp enough to scare the crap out of a hardcore thug, but not smart enough to keep his fucking cashbox out of reach.  And of course, the archetypal dying rich guy pulling all the strings.

This isn’t a horror story.  It’s a one-stop cliche superstore.  The grieving parent who lashes out at the hero.  The lab tech that touches scary shit with his bare fucking hands.

But surely, this is a horror story!  There’s blood and goo and dissected people.  Little worms that poke through people’s eyes.  Yea, verily, an ample opportunity for gross-out.  And spooky stuff.  Oh, such spooky I shall give thee.  Nay, I reject thy claim of compact comestible shite–

Look, I don’t care.  Maybe I’ve gotten old or more jaded by life.  But I was never impressed by gore.  Part of my problem is that I’ve already read the book, so I know the gross-outs are coming.

But everyone’s expecting the gross-out.  The promo art.  The worm in the eye.  Everybody knows it’s coming.  So that couldn’t be the only attraction for the audience.  Can it?

Judging from all the tweets and reviews… yup.  Only one negative review so far.  And I usually hate that guy.

We’re talking about Guillermo del Toro, I know.  I get that.  Boy, do I get that.  I’ve been a fan of his movies for years.  He makes movies I wish I had made.  He lingers on shadows and turns them into magical worlds.

So watching The Strain on FX was really, really depressing.  I know pilot eps usually suck, compared to the whole series.  But Cthulhu on a crutch, our pilot ep was better!  And we were learning! We were struggling, praying that we were doing something right.

Guillermo, you let me down, man.  I’m disappointed.  Utterly furious.

And then I see some more horror news come down the pike.  Chris Carter is producing a post-apocalyptic show called…

The After?

The After?!

A violent, unpredictable world called THE AFTER?!

Did someone declare war on me?  Ugh, just walk away.  Find a dumpster and do penalty throws.  No more struggling.  No more nightmare wrangling.

No.  I was here first.  Not my friends.  Not the fans.  Not my allies.  Just me.

I was alone with my nightmares.  I saw things.  People.  Things they did.  They appeared in my dreams and mutated.  Every time I fell asleep, I had nightmares that I still can’t talk about.  They tore at my waking hours.  Kept me from sleeping for weeks.

Weeks.  Days and days of being afraid of your own head, of the crap inside it, terrified of closing your eyes.

Do you know what that’s like?  Fuck Nightmare on Elm Street and that pervy boogeyman bullshit.  Do you know?

One day I started writing them down.  And I was so tired.  Enough to fall asleep.  And the nightmares stopped.  They were on paper, given a place to live, so they let me go.

I went through it.  I lived it.  I’m still here.

And nobody.  Fucking.  Helped.

Despite my reputation, I try not to complain.  I do anyway.  But only because I’ve had enough.  The meter reads full and I have to let it out sometimes.

So I don’t like to share my troubles.  Big or small.  Heartbreaking or stupid shit.  I don’t know.  I just assume everyone has something better to do.

But now I’m telling you.  This is why.

Afterhell disappeared for a while.  Whatever the reasons, I just stopped doing it.

And now it’s time.  Put up or shut up.

Afterhell delivers to live.  There is ample evidence of a need, regardless of whether the need is mine or that of others.  But if you’re smart, you’ll keep up.

I’m going to do my best to give you the best nightmares you’ve ever had.

Start running.

Comments: 1
Written: Jul 14, 2014
Dec
5

Goodbye, Forry

We interrupt the long wait between Afterhell episodes to mourn the passing of an icon.

AP: Sci-Fi’s Grand Old Man, Forrest J Ackerman, dies

Forrest Ackerman was known by many while serving many roles, under many names.   He was the editor of the Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine, not to mention its heart and soul.  His playfulness appeared in its pages as cheesy puns and tongue-in-cheek captions.

He often signed his editorials as Dr. Acula.  Readers addressed him as FJA, Forry, 4E, the Ackermonster, and many other goofy epithets.  He embraced them all.  His knack for cheesy puns and wordplay was infectious.

He first coined the term “sci-fi,” so the AP headline is apt on so many levels.  People can’t decide whether it became a benefit or a detriment to science fiction.  The only certainty in its issue is that he said it with genuine affection.

The bottom line:  Forry was the ultimate fan.  He might not be the reason why people invented the term “Big-Name Fame,” but he’s the reason why people still use it. Forry was a model citizen, a grand master in fanboy circles.  He represented what fandom at its best.  He was warm, courteous, playful, and generous.

Spending decades collecting tons of sci-fi and horror memorabilia, he didn’t simply horde his treasure trove.  He opened his home and shared them with strangers from all over the world.

He was a friend and idol to millions — writers, artists, filmmakers, musicians, starry-eye nobodies.  Forry treated them all the same…like family.

I’ve bumped into him once or twice at conventions, on my way to this or that.  And he was doing the same… well, mostly the same.  I was in the company of one pretty lady.  Forry was always surrounded by at least four of them.  (Who says fanboys don’t get any?)  But each time we passed each other, he’d light up, extend a big warm hand, and beam out with “Hi, good to see you!”

Forry was Santa Claus, Dr. Frankenstein, and Hugh Hefner all rolled into one.  He delighted in the dark, revelled in the light… and always seemed to know your name.

He’s gone now.

Does Halloween seem darker every year?  Does every winter seem colder?

No… no, I can’t afford to play that game.  And neither can you, friend.  Yes, you too.  The word “friend” has been overused, but Forry Ackerman proved in his life that it can hold a multitude of real human warmth every time the word is spoken.

A toast to Forry.  The best fiend you could ever want.

Comments: 0
Written: Dec 5, 2008
Nov
5

Slow vs. Fast Zombies?

As Halloween and the election season come to a close, a strange fusion has taken place, setting the stage for international controversy.

Simon Pegg, one of the brains behind the brilliant movie Shaun of the Dead, has thrown his hat into the metaphysical ring of zombie politics.

Simon Pegg:  “Zombies Don’t Run!”

On Afterhell Volume 3, we kind of cheated.  In “Bloodbath at the Giallo Hotel,” zombies move at the speed of plot.

So what does everybody think?  Should zombies be fast or slow?

Comments: 2
Written: Nov 5, 2008
Nov
10

Verbiage

Here’s a fun way to make the world a better place. And all you donate is mouse clicks.

It’s a word quiz called “Free Rice.” You test your vocabulary, and for every right answer, the United Nations World Food Program gets another 10 grains of rice.

So really wrack yer brain!

Comments: 0
Written: Nov 10, 2007