Saturday, October 31, 2009

Countdown to Halloween: Kids' Books

Halloween has arrived! Since this awesome holiday is (ostensibly) about kids, I wanted to share some great books I, and plenty of other folks, loved to read and reread as a child. These are the books that made me the Halloween and horror fan I remain to this day!

Norman Bridwell, most famous for creating Clifford the Big Red Dog, had several books of charmingly-drawn monsters. I mean, they are adorable. Look at Dracula waving, for Chrissakes!

Another fantastically well-illustrated monster book was this makeup how-to by Alan Ormsby, who had starred as the most obnoxious theater troupe leader ever in Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things (1973).

Bunnicula! A classic tale of a vampire rabbit. Lots of sequels apparently.

Books like these were a treasure trove of horror movie history. In the days before VCRs, much less DVDs and the internet, the only way a kid could see a lot of these movies was to read these books and imagine them in his head...The distinctive orange-spined Crestwood Series has sent many a 30-something dude scouring the net for hours trying to figure out what the heck they were called.

As noted previously, I don't draw like I did when I was kid, but I fondly recall these two how-to books were staples for the after-school and Saturday hours.

Well, I've come to the end of my Countdown to Halloween. Hope you readers enjoyed it, and have a happy horror-day... even if this crazy lady doesn't want you to!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Countdown to Halloween: Horror Around the House

As we get right up on Halloween, here's a nice chunk of the horror-related books and toys and whatnot I like to accessorize with at home.

Three old-school Draculas guard the bookshelf...

Horror fiction in various states of read- and unread-ness. You got your King hardcovers that date from when I was in high school, and countless books good and bad I've collected (I do not recommend re-reading It as an adult, however Song of Kali remains perhaps the greatest horror novel I've ever read). I am particularly fond of '70s and '80s paperbacks, mass market/drugstore rack stuff long before it was reprinted at $14 a pop for a movie tie-in. Looking for a nice I Am Legend paperback, cheap, as well as the splatterpunk stuff I used to read nearly 20 years ago that I've since sold off. Wow, very little Straub and what, no Machen or Blackwood! Gotta get on that. Anybody remember the Dell Abyss line? This guy does.

Some of my beloved Sideshow monster toys!

A stack of horror movie books. You cannot go wrong with The Overlook Horror Encyclopedia, The Book of the Dead, Nightmare Movies, or Immoral Tales! Get your Netflix queue ready.

And Clive Barker's demonic ladies guard over his works below.

I love these 11 x 14" posters; they're great if you don't have a lot of wall space. The one for Zombi 2 came with the 2-disc DVD set!

And Brundlefly and Cesare from Dr. Caligari's cabinet round things up!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Countdown to Halloween: Lovecraft and the Parody of Religion

H.P. Lovecraft was a lifelong resident and antiquarian from Providence, Rhode Island, who supported himself by writing the most vivid star-flung nightmare fantasies of the early 20th century. His shadow over the field of horror entertainment since his death in 1937 is unparalleled and unmistakable. To say something is Lovecraftian is to intimate its awesome alien strangeness, as in, "The early scenes of Ridley Scott's Alien are truly Lovecraftian."

In Lovecraft's tales, gone were the dank castles of Count Dracula, the Gothic laboratory of Dr. Frankenstein, the cross and the silver bullet to destroy the beast, the pure of heart and the Lord's Prayer. He wrote for the new scientific age of Darwin, Einstein, and Freud, when our fears were no longer blasphemous monsters of superstitious Old World folklore, but of the vastness of the universe and humanity’s lowly place within it; terrors not of the soul, but of the mind.

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age."

"The Call of Cthulhu," 1927

Lovecraft's infamous Great Old Ones are not, as some have insisted, simply evil alien creatures, as Arkham House founder August Derleth posited and promulgated in his own stories; no, they represent the inability of humans to comprehend anything outside their own earth-bound experience. From deep space and other dimensions, these beings are not the saucer-eyed, woman-hungry Martians of science fiction; these entities are vast, incorporeal, protean, inconceivable. Degenerate cults worship them as gods, and Lovecraft at once parodies and mocks notions of religion, spirituality, and transcendent knowledge.

An atheist who, as he said, "hated and despised religion," Lovecraft saw no real qualitative difference between, say, "Shub Nigurath, the Goat with a Thousand Young" or "Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth," and "Transubstantion of the Eucharist" or "There is no God but God." The dread Necronomicon is their bible; the acolyte's cry of "! !" is Cthulhu speak for "Hallelujah!"

"They worshiped, so they said, the Great Old Ones who lived ages before there were any men, and who came to the young world out of the sky. Those Old Ones were gone now, inside the earth and under the sea; but their dead bodies had told their secrets in dreams to the first men, who formed a cult which had never died. This was that cult, and the prisoners said it had always existed and always would exist, hidden in distant wastes and dark places all over the world until the time when the great priest Cthulhu, from his dark house in the mighty city of R'lyeh under the waters, should rise and bring the earth again beneath his sway. Some day he would call, when the stars were ready, and the secret cult would always be waiting to liberate him."

"The Call of Cthulhu," 1927

The final lines of "The Shadow over Innsmouth" (used so well in Stuart Gordon's film Dagon) can be seen as a nightmarish twist on the Lord's Prayer: "And in that lair of the Deep Ones we shall dwell amidst wonder and glory forever." Compare: "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen."

"Man must be prepared to accept notions of the cosmos, and of his own place in the seething vortex of time, whose merest mention is paralysing. He must, too, be placed on guard against a specific, lurking peril which, though it will never engulf the whole race, may impose monstrous and unguessable horrors upon certain venturesome members of it."

"The Shadow out of Time," 1935

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Countdown to Halloween: Rise of the Vampires

From Tod Browning's Dracula (1931):

"And all around them, the bestiality of the night rises on tenebrous wings. The vampire's time has come."
Stephen King,
'Salem's Lot (1975)

You play your wits against me, mine, who commanded armies hundreds of years before you were born?"
Bram Stoker,
Dracula (1897)

"If it's raining and you're running
Don't slip in mud because if you do

You'll slip in blood tonight...

The moon may be full

The moon may be white

All I know is
you will feel his bite tonight.
It's the night of the vampire.
Roky Erickson, "Night of the Vampire" (1978)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Delights of Dread: Meeting Clive Barker

"There is no delight the equal of dread," wrote Liverpudlian Clive Barker in the first lines of his 1984 short story "Dread," collected in Books of Blood Vol. 2. I believed him back then and I believe him now. Also, from the title story: "The dead have highways... Their thrum and throb can be heard in the broken places of the world, through cracks made by acts of cruelty, violence and depravity." Who could resist the promise of such a glimpse?

I picked up Vol. 3 first (can't remember why I chose number three) for one reason only: the infamous quote on the cover from Stephen King. At the time (1986 or '87) that meant a lot to me; it was before King could be counted on to whore up a blurb for any writer (Bentley Little? Really?). "I have seen the future of horror," it went, "and its name is Clive Barker." (For you non-classic rock fans, that's a take on something said early in Bruce Springsteen's career). That was plenty good enough for me. King was right in some ways (the Hellraiser movies, Books of Blood) but wrong in others.

Barker proved to be a world-class talent as a novelist too, with ambitious, layered, magic-realist works like Weaveworld (1987), The Great and Secret Show (1990), and my absolute favorite, Imajica (1991). These books were long, ambitious, mythic, darkly fantastic, erotic, and metaphysical, evoking not just horror fiction like King, Lovecraft, Ramsey Campbell or Poe, but also William Blake, Tolkien, kitchen-sink realism, surrealism, Peter Pan, Melville, Joseph Campbell, Jorge Luis Borges; a whole host of influences that most horror fans would (unfortunately) have little familiarity with. I can't recall Dean Koontz ever talking about the impact Les yeux sans visage, The Story of the Eye, or The Holy Mountain had on his fiction. Reading Barker improved my cultural literacy when I was just a teenager in a way no AP literature class could have.

He is also a wonderful and quite accomplished artist. You can see his dense, colorfully macabre paintings in Clive Barker: Illustrator I and II. And before he started his career as a published writer, he had written and produced crazy-quilt Grand Guignol plays, collected in Forms of Heaven (1995) and Incarnations (1996). And then children's books like The Thief of Always (1992) and the Abarat series (ongoing); and latter-day more mainstream, yet still visionary, novels like Sacrament (1996) and Galilee (1998). Whew. 

Despite these incredible accomplishments, Barker's name is always associated with horror. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it puts Barker in a box (Lemarchand's box, one assumes) too confining for a popular artist. What else is new, right? Look at his stunning artwork for the UK editions of Books of Blood. Come on, what popular author can do all this?
 I have a print of Vol. III's cover framed and hanging in my bedroom, it looks awesome!
 And this is a seriously Gothed-out me meeting Mr. Barker in January 1991 at a Fangoria Weekend of Horrors convention in New York City. Here he's signing my Nightbreed (his 1990 "epic" monster movie) poster. Seems pretty excited to meet me, doesn't he? 

I met him several times over the years at these conventions, and he was always terrifically engaging. During one Q&A I asked him why he thought horror should be "subversive," another time why we were so drawn to monsters and scenes of chaos and death. He answered my questions with enthusiasm, and suffered idiotic questions ("How do you get to the third level on the Hellraiser videogame?" "Will you and Stephen King ever write a novel together?" "What kind of shoes does Pinhead wear?") with smiling tolerance. One year we agreed that only David Cronenberg could adapt the then-upcoming movie version of William Burroughs's seminal Beat novel Naked Lunch; and then recommended I see Bernard Rose's Paperhouse (which has proved elusive). Barker is well-known for making hours-long appearances to sign whatever item someone has and meet his fans. Gracious, funny, patient, Clive Barker is genuinely a great and unique artist who truly enjoys interacting with the people who love his work and well understands the connection we have with him.