Cancer

Nothing prepares you for it. You may think you’ve come to grips with the possible diagnosis, but you aren’t. When the Doctor says those three words, “You have cancer”, your entire life crumbles like the towers on 9/11.  You sift through the rubble of emotions and thoughts, trying to find survivors, a glimmer of hope, anything. Anything at all. You get lost in the smoke and dust, unable to find your way. It burns your eyes and throat, makes you choke and gag. It brings you to your knees, and instead of prayer you let out a litany of curses.

Then things begin to settle down. The dust thins out, the smoke dissipates, and your eyes can start to focus again. You realize your alive and each shallow breath you take feels like none that have ever come before. You finally understand how precious life is when you are close to losing it.

Then, you get up, dust yourself off and start to plan on what to do next. How to rebuild, and make yourself stronger. How to recover from something so awful you wouldn’t wish it upon your worst enemy. You vow to beat it, not let it win. You now have purpose.

Welcome to cancer.

 

It was nearly 7 months ago I lost my mother to pancreatic cancer. While still reeling from that I received the diagnosis of testicular cancer. Certainly not close to the severity of pancreatic cancer, but still, not a walk in the park. The worst part is, I feel fine. For the firth time in a long time my blood sugar is under control. My blood pressure is lowering, and I can walk a little farther without pain in my calves. I actually feel good physically for the first time in a very, very long time. How could I have cancer? Well, I do, and it doesn’t matter how the jackass got in the ditch, I gotta get him out now.

And that’s what I hope to do, and what’s more, I want to document it each step of the way. I never want to forget this, and I never want anyone to go through what I’m going through. I feel good and I feel hope, and I have only one thing left to say about this; fuck cancer.

History

This is yet another incarnation of my blog. One that started over a decade ago at www.raingods.wordpress.com. It was simply a blog then about some of the internet’s most amusing trolls. Several years later it became www.secolbertblog.wordpress.com, and contained more serious posts about my writing and current works in progress. There were also a lot of reviews of movies, music, TV, links to my podcast, and other detritus.

This current incarnation is a blending of those two, as well as a step into the future with more reviews, interviews, posts regarding my books, and other more personal posts. My hope is you find these worth the while to read and that you’ll support me by purchasing my works, so the website can continue.

It’s barebones at the moment as I get my bearings in creating a website, but as time goes on, more will be added that will be far more appealing. In the meantime enjoy the old posts and prepare yourselves for some wicked new content.

Take Two: Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore/Men Don’t Leave

I will always love horror. It’s as ingrained in me as the blue in my eyes. In spite of that, I also love a good drama, and here are two of my very favorites, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, Martin Scorsese’s first Hollywood movie, and Men Don’t Leave, Paul Brickman’s follow up to Risky Business. Both movies are very similar in many ways, yet tell their own story and are completely their own.

Both feature a woman in their mid 30’s suddenly widowed and left with debt and kids. While Alice only has 11 year old Tommy, Beth has two sons, 9 year old Matthew and 17 year old Chris. First we’ll take a look at Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.

I’ve always had a fondness for this movie. It was one of those films that the early years of HBO and Showtime played nonstop or so it seemed. Much of that fondness was because Alfred Lutter who plays Tommy, reminded me of my best friend growing up, Chris. He denied the resemblance, and probably still does to this day, but it was there in my eyes, and that’s all that mattered.

I watched it recently for the first time in about 40 years, and I have to say I was curious if my feelings for it had changed. They hadn’t. If anything they grew stronger, and I still say it is Scorsese’s best movie, and certainly his most underrated.

Released in   1974, and starring Ellen Burstyn (who won an academy award for the role), ADLHA is a bit of an anomaly for Scorsese. It came right after Mean Streets and was unlike anything he’d done, or would do for many years. Burstyn was filming The Exorcist when she got the script, and after calling Francis Ford Coppola, had Warner Brothers hire Scorsese to direct. It’s unmistakably a Scorsese film, with many of the same camera moves he’d hone and perfect in future movies. It also lacked the polish of say Raging Bull or Goodfellas, but that works in its favor.

Alice starts off in, Monterey, CA with her as a little girl. We hear her sing, rather unevenly at that, and her promise to be a singer. We jump 27 years to the present where she now resides in Socorro NM. From the first few moments we see the family, we know these characters. Don, the short tempered, emotionally stunted husband; Alice the unhappy, put upon but dutiful wife, and Tommy the precocious smart ass of a kid who doesn’t get along with his father.

Though the beginning of their relationship is never mentioned, it has all the earmarks of High School sweethearts who had an unplanned kid, and were forced to get married. When Alice cries herself to sleep one night because of her husband’s lack of communication, we feel her pain. We share the sorrow, and neediness when she grabs him after he begrudgingly holds her.

It doesn’t take long before the husband is killed in an accident (he was a truck driver for Coca-Cola, as all he wears in the movie is their uniform). Alice devastated, and out of money, not that she ever had much to begin with,  decides to sell everything, pack up the kid and go back to Monterey to become a singer again. Why? Because when you think of a singing career, you think of Monterey, CA. Right?

Tommy reminds her that his twelfth birthday is coming up, and Alice promises him they’ll get to Monterey in time to celebrate it. Fate has other plans and her car breaks down in Phoenix, AZ. Broke, without a car and living in a cheap motel, Alice starts looking for work and talks her way into a singing gig at a piano bar. Now, if the movie has one flaw, it’s that Alice really can’t sing. Certainly not the torch song standards she prefers, yet everyone thinks she’s fantastic.

That includes Ben, a suave, young man bent on bedding Alice. After she relents, and they start a relationship, she gets a visit from Ben’s wife, letting Alice know he was not only married but had a child as well. As they sit talking, Ben breaks in, starts beating on his wife and literally kicks her out the door while she’s on her hands and knees. He then threatens Alice, which is enough for her to pack everything and escape. She lands in Tucson and gets a job as a waitress at Mel’s diner. There she befriends the tough as a marshmallow owner/cook Mel, and two waitresses, the acerbic, take no shit Flo, and the dumb as a doorknob Vera. Alice and Flo don’t get on at first, and Alice grows to hate the job.

Things change when she meets the handsome stranger, David, a rancher who comes in for breakfast every day. At first Alice rejects his advances, so he gets Tommy on his side by taking him out to the ranch for some horseback riding. Alice finally relents and they begin dating.

Tommy meanwhile becomes friends with Audrey, a young girl well on her way to doing jail time as an adult. She talks Tommy into stealing, drinking ripple, and generally being a juvenile delinquent. In spite of that, his mother is oblivious to his behavior, and when David finally disciplines him (on his birthday no less), Alice goes ballistic and breaks up with him.

Realizing he may have been right, Alice confides in Flo, and the wizened waitress gives the crying mother some advice. When Tommy gets picked up by the police with Audrey for being drunk, Alice comes to her senses somewhat, and she and David make up and Alice decides to stay in Tucson, because she can be a singer everywhere.

It’s an uncharacteristically upbeat ending for Scorsese, but then so is the idea of his making a feminist movie. ADLHA was released at the height of the women’s movement, and it not only became a box office success, but earned star Ellen Burstyn an Oscar. Diane Ladd (who would later go on to star in the sitcom Alice, though not as Flo), also earned a best supporting actress nomination. Harvey Keitel as the viuolent Ben lights up the screen with his smile and snake’s eyes. Throw in a great performance by Kris Kristofferson as David, and Alfredd Lutter as Tommy and you have all the ingredients for a classic movie.

The best movies remain timeless, no matter when they were made. Alice is certainly one of these, and its message is as potent and relevant today as it was in 1974. For a young director like Scorsese, who was 32 when he filmed it, Alice shows a confidence and maturity missing in many films from director’s with twice his experience (for the time). His use of music is as exemplary as always, as is the camera work. The fact that I still think about this movie decades later is a testament to its power and longevity.

While it took Paul Brickman 7 years to make another movie after Risky Business, it proved that he was a force to be reckoned with, in spite of the sophomore effort’s mixed reviews. Men Don’t Leave was filmed in 1988 but not released until 1990. Like Alice, it also is a product of its time, perhaps not quite as timeless, but no less powerful.

John McCauley is a contractor with a loving wife and two boys, 17 year old Chris, and 9 year old Matt. They live in Maryland in a posh neighborhood, and are as much upper middle class as Alice and her Coca Cola driver husband were lower middle class. As the movie opens the youngest son is narrating over scenes of him running home. He has a little house in the backyard where his brother helps him install a doorbell. There’s brief scenes of the family together, Mom and Dad together and the brothers together. It’s a close knit and loving family, also the very opposite of what Alice had.

As in ADLHA, the father dies very early on, though the police come to tell Beth, as opposed to the phone call Alice gets. While Alice loved her husband on some level, Beth is still in love with hers, and his death cuts deeper, especially for the boys, in particular the oldest, Chris. They all have ways of trying to cope, with Beth simply trying to keep the household going. Chris responds to the death with anger and frustration, while young Matthew bottles everything up.

When Beth learns about the massive amount of debt her husband left, she does what Alice did and starts selling things including the truck that had been promised to Chris. Beth gets a job as a cashier but it still isn’t enough, and she makes the decision to sell the house and move to Baltimore. And though she’s not forced tro live in a rundown motel, she does move into a rundown apartment with no air conditioning and windows that are stuck shut.

This is where ADLHA and MDL diverge a bit, though we still see some similarities. Beth gets a menial job making and delivering gourmet sandwiches, and ends up meeting a musician on one of her deliveries. Chris meets a single X-Ray Tech in her 20’s who falls for him, and Matt is friends with Winston, another 9 year old who steals VCR’s (again, the stealing theme).

Chris’ attitude towards Charles is predictably angry and resentful, and maybe a tad jealous as well. His mother’s relationship only serves to throw him into the arms of his now girlfriend, who seems to be a bit of a creeper *a fact not lost on Beth who asks her at one point, “Couldn’t you find a 10 year old?”)

Matt maintains his stoicism, and though he knows stealing the VCR’s is wrong, he is only doing it to earn enough money to buy back the house he grew up in. To that end, he and Winston invest in scratch lottery tickets, each for their own purposes.

As things go, Life starts to unravel for Beth. She loses her job, Chris moves in with Jody, she stops talking to Charles, and Matt is as detached as ever. She falls into a depression and ends up in bed for 5 days, not bothering to cook, clean, bathe, or do much of anything. Chris gets Jody to try and help his mother, and with great resistance, Beth relents and allows herself to be helped.

Matt however has a breakdown of his own, after Winston gets a winning lottery ticket and doesn’t share it with him as they had agreed. Matt runs away, and much like Alice where we see her searching for a missing Tommy, we see Beth, Charles and Chris searching for Matt.

A phone call from the new owners of their house lets them know he is there and in his old fort. They race to the house, where tears are shed, monologues are given, and love is dispensed. The last scene is of the family, plus Jody and Charles going boating together, along with more voice over from Matt.

It’s a manufactured happy ending for a slick, over produced Hollywood production. It treats depression as something you just snap out of by a clean apartment, clean clothes and a cup of tea. And for its faults, I still love this movie. Jessica Lange as Beth was really coming into her own then, enough to make us all forget her horrible turn in 1976’s King Kong.

MDL is Chris O’Donnell’s debut, and it’s easy to see why he catapulted into stardom, as his acting here is nothing short of phenomenal. The same is true for Charlie Korsmo who plays his little brother. Both are amazing and very believable. Arliss Howard as Charles has the most thankless roll, and the most forgettable. He does his best, but Charles comes across as so bland, you really don’t get invested in him.

It’s Kathy Bates as Beth’s boss and Joan Cusack as Chris’ girlfriend who steal the show. Every time they’re onscreen is magic. I’d love to have seen more of Bates, but what we do get is deliciously bitchy. Cusack, as pleasant as she seems to be, still comes across as a creeper, and you never feel entirely comfortable with her character. You get the feeling if they had sex offenders lists then, her name would be on it.

As I said, MDL is not a perfect movie. It feels too manufactured and not nearly as honest, emotionally as Alice. And ADLHA has a far more organic, natural feel, which better characters and a far more believable ending. The difference is night and day when comparing the scene of Alice and Flo in the bathroom, and Beth and Jody in Beth’s kitchen. Alice makes you feel like you’re eavesdropping, while Men makes you aware that this isn’t how real people talk, but you still go with it.

I’m not sure why I have the attachment to Men Don’t Leave, other than it was released a year after my own father died, and I could relate to a lot of the feelings I saw onscreen. I was 24 then, but still felt like the 9 year old Matt at times.

Regardless, and if for nothing else, Men Don’t Leave is well worth watching for the performances alone. Watch it on a double bill with Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and compare them the way I have, then ask yourself, which one am I? The answer may surprise you.

Specter of Love

My last review was for Wade Radford’s movie, Necrophiliac, and now he’s back with a very different love story. Switching mediums for this project, Wade jumps into fiction writing. While he’s done this before, it’s certainly not what the UK based indie artist is known for. And he’s definitely not known for love stories mixed in with ghostly musings.

 

All the Way to Mundesley Bay is a quick read, as is befitting a novella, but there’s so much to chew on and digest, that you speed through it at your own peril. This is a story to be savored, like a morning cup of coffee as you sit on a porch watching the sun rise. It’s a respite from the hectic, 24 hour news cycle bombarding us with half truths and reality TV.

Mundesley Bay tells the deceptively simple story of two young men, Tom and JD who are meeting for the first time at a small cottage by the sea. We are privy to their innermost thoughts, fears, desires and hopes. Also inhabiting the cottage is a ghost who has been there for 500+ years. We learn about him throughout the book, as well as his family, other ghosts, and his own fears as well.

That’s all you need to know for the setup, and even that may be too much. When Wade told me about the book, prior to his writing, I didn’t know what to expect, other than it would be interesting, and I looked forward to seeing him work outside his comfort zone. What I wasn’t prepared for was the steep philosophical meditations on life, death, love, and what happens after we die.

Those are all topics that we can relate to, especially those of us closer to the end of the line than the beginning. I was truly moved to tears several times while reading this potent piece. I found myself thinking about some of the ideas long after I finished reading. And while JD and Tom are presented as the main characters, it is the ghost I became enraptured with. It was the ghost I wanted to know more about and wished above all he had a happy ending. In fact it is his love story that is the heart of the story, and not the burgeoning romance between the boys.

JD and Tom may seem like characters from Radford’s other works like Sex, Lies, and Depravity, they are still wholly original and well developed. These are real people painted as such, and you believe in them, and root for them, even as red flags are thrown up. It’s a fine line Radford crosses and he does so with the maturity of writers twice his age. In fact, my first thought after reading Mundesley Bay was, “I wish I’d written this.”

It’s always difficult reviewing work by someone who is a close and dear friend, as the reader is likely to assume it’s all bullshit. In this case it’s not. I genuinely love this little book, and I urge everyone to grab a copy in ebook or paperback. It’s an antidote to the negativity we face within ourselves and the outer world.. All the Way to Mundesely Bay deserves to be read, and it deserves to be read now. You’ll thank me for it later.

You can pick up your copy at Amazon.com

Romance is Dead

The Lustful Dead gives new meaning to the phrase, “a dead fuck.” While LD has been available in the U.S. since its release, Europe, and specifically the U.K haven’t been so lucky, and it has become quite hard to get a copy.

On the 15th of November, 2019 that all changes when the rest of the world is finally able to see Wade Radford’s darkest film. For those who aren’t familiar with Wade or his work, it’s simply to be said, you have to experience it for yourself. Mere words don’t do justice to his creations (his solo work as well as collaborations with Jason Impey), seeing is believing.

While I’ve written extensively about all of his movies in my upcoming book about Wade’s work, I’ve also said many, many times it is my favorite film of his, and I think one of, if not, the best performance of his career so far.

Lustful Dead is very simple, a filmmaker Joe Newton, interviews Haydn Reef, a self-proclaimed necrophiliac. The first half of the film is very reminiscent of Radford’s seminal work about pornography, Twink, simply an interview. Yet Haydn delights in teasing Newton as he explains very casually how he finds corpses and what he does with them.

Radford’s performance is chilling as he goes into explicit detail while petting his cat so lovingly. We truly are put in the director’s shoes in not quite believing Haydn, yet being repulsed by his actions. Those feelings get complicated as Haydn is nothing if not charismatic and you can’t help but liking him.

As the conversation goes on and grows more intense, Haydn shows the filmmaker around his flat on a tour he’ll never forget. You’ll have to watch it to see what happens. All I’ll say is that corpse in the bedroom isn’t just for show.

While you’re more apt to find Impey behind the camera, instead of in front, he does a fine job as the filmmaker in way, way, way over his head. His talent behind the camera is on display here as well, and he truly seems to be in his element.

As I mentioned earlier I think this is Radford’s best performance. With his short hair, and imposing demeanor, he truly unsettles the viewer at the same time you want to fuck him. A fine balancing act that few can do successfully. Anyone familiar with Radford’s Boys Behind Bars trilogy knows he pulls no punches, and erases any line conventional cinema may draw in the sand. And even as outrageous as they are, they’re nothing compared to what he gets up to in LD.

All that would be enough, but the fact all the dialog was improvised is a testament to his creativity as well as his acting.

To be completely open, Radford has been a close friend of mine for over five years, but that doesn’t mean I like everything he’s done. I don’t. And when that happens I’ll tell him.

However, when he makes something I like, and in this case love, I’ll shout it from the rooftops, and in this case Lustful Dead is one of the best indie horror movies of the last few years. It manages to be a bit of everything, but most of all, thought provoking. You’ll be thinking about it long after the final frame has faded to black.

Pre-order here

A Tale of Two Maniacs: Spinell Vs Wood

This was originally published in October of 2014 on the old Supernaughts site. I’ve been asked about it over the past several days, and thought it was time to post it again. 

When Maniac was released back in 1980, I missed it. I was 15 at the time, and no one I knew had any interest in seeing it. Not until I ran across it on HBO (or maybe Showtime I forget which), did I finally get to see this cult classic. I was underwhelmed at the time, finding it slow moving, not especially scary, and only notable for some excellent make up effects. Joe Spinell brings what little creep factor there is simply for how he looks in the film, as opposed to his acting (which never goes beyond good, and is usually verging on bad). Let’s face it though, a film like Maniac isn’t going to be notable for acting, writing, or anything other than the gore factor and scares.

When I first heard about a remake, I let it pass under my radar, as I had little emotional investment from a horror fan’s or even a nostalgia ridden perspective. I don’t think it was until I heard Elijah Wood had been cast in the role as Frank Zito that I started following it with some mild interest. I’ve always liked Wood’s as an actor, and thought it was such an odd choice it would either be a fantastic idea or so bad it would be good. Either way, this was the horror movie I was looking forward to the most this year.
Prior to writing this, I watched both versions back to back. Not once, but twice. I’ve even gone back to certain scenes to take screen shots and to refresh my memory (I did this a couple of weeks ago, and the notes I wrote down, were pretty illegible).

I watched the original first, and this time around had a far more favorable reaction to it. Perhaps because I hadn’t seen it in 20 years or so, I had a new perspective on it-still it’s far from perfect, and my criticisms of it still stand, but I can appreciate it more now.

The first difference between the two is the opening. In Maniac 1980, it opens on the beach with Zito killing a couple getting down to business. I never understood this as he’s spying first, and knows the boyfriend is there, and it goes against his M.O. in the rest of the film. Maniac 2012 starts with Zito driving around looking for a hooker. Before I go on with the comparison I have to mention this: much has been made about how the remake was shot entirely from the killer’s POV, with our only glimpses of him in a mirror, etc. Prior to watching it, I was pretty sure I’d hate it. And while I don’t love it, I found it very effective. And there are two scenes where it breaks the POV, which while a bit jarring, didn’t detract from the experience.

So, Elijah has Wood that he’s intent on using on a prostitute, and stalks her, setting up the kill in the doorway to her apartment. The remake has a far more effective opening, and more important, it keeps with his motivation.

Maniac 1980 has Spinell hire a hooker, and after some banter, they get down to business and once he strangles her, he takes her scalp.

This same scene is told a bit differently in the remake, the woman Wood seduces isn’t a prostitute, but someone he meets online. After a nice Italian dinner, she takes him back to her place where she attempts to seduce him by giving him a blow job. Now, during this scene they use the same song that was made famous in Silence of the Lambs (during Buffalo Bill’s dance in front of a mirror-and no Bill, I wouldn’t fuck you). I was ready to actually stop watching. I thought it was such a gratuitous and lazy move, it angered me-and that doesn’t happen a lot. Yet, I kept on, and as in the original, Wood strangles her and scalps her. Though Wood actually seems to orgasm as he scalps her, and for Spinell it’s business as usual.

Both Maniacs get love interests, and while Spinell is more methodical and devious in getting his, it doesn’t come off as believable (he spies a beautiful woman taking pictures, sees her camera bag, looks at it and sees an address on the tag, and then shows up at her apartment unannounced). Woods’ would be paramour is merely happenstance, he notices someone taking pictures of the storefront where he lives/works and invites her in-thus beginning their relationship.

Spinal’s relationship never really worked for me, granted in both, you know the outcome won’t be good, but Spinell looks and acts like such a creep, it’s more a matter of when things go down, than if they do. With Wood, you get a sense at times, that maybe it could work, that this woman might be the one to help him get past his issues that cause him to kill.

That thought also brings another difference between the two. The original only gives back story about what causes Zito to kill through some laughably bad monologues and cheesy voice overs. The remake shows us through flashbacks why Woods acts the way he does. Granted with the first, it was probably more a matter of having a small budget and little time to film, but I think it suffers for that.

There’s a scene in the remake where a young Frank is hidden in a closet as his mother brings home two men. He watches her snort coke, and have a threesome with her new found friends, and is pretty disturbing. I can only imagine how more effective the first would be had they been able to do some of that.

As both films progress, there are a few more minor differences, but none bigger than what acts as a prelude to the final scene. Maniac 1980 shows us Frank taking his gf on a date, but he insists on stopping at the graveyard first to pay respects and put new flowers on his mother’s grave. It’s in this pivotal scene, that the gf realizes who Frank is, and as they wrestle on the dead mom’s grave, she manages to stab him in the arm and escape. Frank chases her, but it so weakened (despite the fact he can kill women who to be polite are full figured, but is put out of commission by a superficial wound), he can only stagger home.
By contrast, the new version has Zito going to his gf’s apartment to comfort her after she tells him, the art gallery owner, she had done a show with was murdered. Once at her home, a friend of hers takes his leave, and as the two of them talk, she realizes who he is, and a fantastic fight takes place. Woods’ gets his hand pierced by a knife, he’s slashed, punched, beaten and still has enough energy to slam a butcher knife into the mouth of her friend when he returns. Even when she escapes and he chases her down the street, and gets run over by a car she hops into, it doesn’t stop him, he still manages to crawl over to her broken body and scalp her.

And then he staggers home.

The final scene is the same for both films: the mannequins he pretends are his girlfriends (complete with nailed or stapled scalps attached to them), come to life, and literally rip both of them to shreds. However, when the police barge in, they only find the dead Frank, whole but a victim of suicide.
Maniac 2012 is beautifully filmed. There are some shots that are so haunting and surreal, it takes your breath away. The director, Frank Khalfoun does a masterful job of framing shots, and uses much trickery with mirrors to show Woods face onscreen (and part of a butt crack). There are only two times where, as I said earlier that the first person POV is broken, the final scene, and an earlier kill. The previous scene had Woods chasing a woman through the subway and into a parking lot, and it’s the only kill we see him from the victims viewpoint. I almost looked at it, as he was so out of control and out of himself by that time, he was having what could be termed an out of body experience. The remake is slick, and glossy, and by comparison the original is a grainy, third generation copy of a bootleg videotape. That’s not even a criticism, as it really highlights the sordidness and squalor of New York at that time (where I happened to live when it was first released). The unrefined nature of the 1980 movie works to its advantage. It has no pretensions of being anything other than what it is.

I have to mention the sound of the remake-at times it borders on brilliance. The music, sound effects, and dialog are all perfectly recorded and sound fantastic. The music in both is appropriate and greatly enhances everything else. In spite of being set in present day (though there are some anachronisms, like CRT televisions, flip phones, and a record player), it retains the ‘80s musical style-and it’s bloody perfection. In fact, it could have easily come off the soundtrack for the original, it’s that good.
The special effects in both are top notch. Savini did such a fantastic job with what he had to work with back then, you can’t find fault with any of it. Having said that, the effects in the remake, even though most are CG, are so well done, I found them almost too realistic. It may not be as violent as the original (the shotgun scene from the first is missing from the second), it’s far bloodier, and the POV gives it an off the charts squirm factor.

With the remake being set in Los Angeles, I thought the change of location served the movie very well. Spinell is as seedy as the city he lives in, while Woods’ is every bit the clean cut hipster that LA brings to mind. Neither one would be given a second look in their respective home towns.
While there are some major and minor differences in tone and character (Woods’ Maniac also has an OCD compulsion to scrub his hands with steel wool after each kill), the biggest is back-story, and the remake really does a fine job with this. The writing is tighter, more believable, and the dialog doesn’t make you cringe. Well, not as much.

As for which is the better film? I think it will depend on who you think is the better Frank Zito. While Spinell does a serviceable job, there are points his performance verges on camp, and you end up laughing at places you’re not meant to. Much like Nicholson in The Shining, who already looks crazy from the start, you have a hard time believing anyone would talk to him for more than 10 seconds before crossing the street to get away from him. Woods, I think, benefits from having very little screen time due to the POV situation. His voice over work is solid, and when you do see him, he’s alternately charming, in a nerdy kind of way, or simply haunting.

I prefer Woods interpretation, and when he kills, you don’t think about his diminutive size, because you don’t see him. The director, perhaps unknowingly, did Woods a boon, for using the POV, as it erases your thoughts about how someone his size can do what he does.
For me, I far prefer the remake. It’s one of the very few instances where it outshines the source material in almost every single way. Both are worth seeing, and adding to your collection, but the remake is the version I’ll always remember.

Release Day and Contest!

While it may be a cliche, and minimizes the pain women endure, a book release is like giving birth. After months of gestating, it gets released, leaving the author in a state of exhaustion and relief.

That’s simply my long winded way of saying Life in Amber is now available! The paperback is exclusive to Amazon, while the e-book is waiting for you not only at Amazon, but every ebook retailer imaginable, including Apple and Walmart.

You may notice there’s a difference between the two covers of each version, and there’s a reason for that. The e-book cover, for whatever reason kept creating errors when uploading to Amazon. It was rejected 3 times and I finally had to redo the entire thing. I really want to change it to what it should be, but afraid to touch it. Anyway, I still like it, and will probably leave it as is.

That aside, I’m running a contest starting on Monday September 10th, 2018, and closing on Friday September 14th. The task you have is to name the 10 movies that had an impact on me, which I posted on Facebook, and then name the play I wrote, which I talk about on the next episode of The Imaginarium. Post your answer on my FB page and the winner gets an autographed copy of the book! Easy Peasy, right? In case of a tie winner will be chosen at random, through the old fashioned name out of a hat, Good luck!

You can also purchase this and my other books here 

Enter contest here

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Life in Amber: Excerpt

September 7th, 2018. Mark that date on your calendar as that is when my new novel Life in Amber comes out! Until then, here’s the Prologue to whet your appetite!

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Prologue

 

             It begins, as every thorough account of the paranormal does: with a dream. I’m sitting in an overstuffed chair in the lobby of a hotel. There’s not a soul around, aside from myself and the clerk. His back is to me as he does some paperwork, unconcerned about the lack of customers.

             A Mylar balloon floats by at knee level. It’s losing helium and is folding in on itself. There’s a cartoon on it, SpongeBob SquarePants. I watch it get taken away by the breeze from the air conditioning, and in a moment it disappears behind a column. I stand up, knees popping, and hips aching, to follow the low flyer. I have no idea where it came from; instead, I’m more curious about where it’s going. Air conditioning aside, it seems to move with purpose, as if it’s on a mission. There is a white string attached to it that drags along the ground like a shadow.

            I follow behind, walking carefully, almost afraid to make my presence known. No, not almost, I am scared. On the surface, there is nothing to fear. The hotel itself is unduly bright, the fluorescent lights bleaching everything of its usual color. The balloon is innocuous enough, yet…

 Yet…there is something still not quite right. It stops, slowly turning and pauses as if looking at me with the vast, blue SpongeBob eyes. I hold my breath, not wanting to make a sound. It turns to the side and floats down the left-hand corridor. The hum of the air conditioning stops, and the silence becomes pervasive, almost as if someone has stuck cotton balls in my ears. I trail behind as pressure begins to build inside my head. I clamp a thumb and forefinger around my nose and hold my breath to get my ears to pop, but this only seems to intensify the clogged feeling. At the far end of the corridor are double doors, the entranceway to a suite or conference room.

            The balloon seems to pick up speed, and when it bounces against the doors, they open gradually. A brilliant light starts to pour out, but it isn’t blinding; it is, if not soothing, then at least makes me feel a bit more relaxed. There’s a humming sound, not the air conditioning this time; it comes from inside the room as well, though it has a higher pitch and is faster. Rhythmic.

             The balloon disappears into the chamber, and I follow after. It takes my eyes a bit to adjust to the brightness, and when they do, I emit a soundless scream. I may as well be in the vacuum of space, as any noise I make is siphoned away.

            This is no conference room. It’s nothing I have ever seen before. Coffins made of amber line the expanse; they are all on stainless steel tables with drains beneath them. I look at one and see the remains of my Uncle Albert who had died decades earlier. His blue eyes bulge and his mouth opens and closes like the gills of a fish in its death throes. His gaze turns to me and pleads for me to do something. My heart sinks; Uncle Albert had always been my favorite Uncle. He was Uncle Al, the kiddies pal. While that may sound a bit creepy in today’s world, back then there was no malicious intent at all.

             I place my hand on top of the amber and feel it vibrate. His eyes widen and are the first parts of his body to explode. His blood and gore paint the inside of the coffin. I turn away, hand over my mouth. I look at the wall in front of me and see children pinned to it, the way you’d pin butterflies in a collection.

             Unlike the butterflies, these children are alive. There is one large pin through the abdomen and four smaller bolts in the hands and feet. Their eyes and mouths are sewn shut, and they wriggle weakly. In spite of the mutilations, I recognize them-they are classmates of mine from elementary school. The bullies, brats and hostile childrenbullies, brats and hostile children of divorce. As if sensing my presence their struggle intensifies, and while I can’t hear anything they mumble, I feel their emotions. The hate and judgment and blame are all directed at me as if I’m responsible for nailing them to the walls.

            There are six of them stuck to the wall. Each has on a white t-shirt with a number scrawled on it in their own blood? Ichor? It made no difference, as I memorize the digits, 6, 27, 32, 11, 47, and 52. There seems to be no discernible pattern to the almost randomly generated lottery numbers. As this thought enters and occupies my mind, the light in the room blossoms until I can no longer see. I’m hesitant to walk, not wanting to bump into the amber coffins. I shuffle along with my hands out in front of me, and I feel the balloon brush against my face. I’m finally able to let loose a scream, and it coincides with the balloon popping.

 

The sounds jolted me out of my sleep. Sweat covered my body and drenched the thin sheet over me, in spite of the chill in the room. I grabbed my phone, opened the note app and fumble typed the numbers I’d seen before I forgot them. I set the phone down and looked for a pack of cigarettes, forgetting for a moment I had quit two years earlier. I sat on the edge of the bed, a futon truth be told, and hugged myself, as the cold air dried the sweat on my aging skin.

 

I picked up my phone again and saw the date, September 13th. My birthday.

I was 50.

Stuffing my feet into my slippers, I rose, and began my day, even as the dream started to fade. It was time for my insulin. Birthday or not, diabetes doesn’t take a vacation. I could have been 10, or 20, or hell, even 80 for all that mattered, the fact was, I didn’t care.

Not about birthdays, not about me, and not about life.

 

Black Wake: A Long Awaited Review

It’s always difficult reviewing a movie, book, music, etc of a friend or an acquaintance. You truly hope it doesn’t suck as much for your sake as theirs. After all, who likes to tell people that matter their work is subpar. With Black Wake, I’ve become friends with the director, Jeremiah Kipp through his appearances on the podcast, as well as through Facebook.  Jerry Janda the writer, has become someone I admire greatly, and we’ve done our own podcast as well. He was the first person to read my book Life in Amber, and I actually read an early version of the script for Black Wake before it even went into production. I’m Facebook friends with several of the actors in the movie, not to mention my cohort on  Imaginarium Todd Staruch has a cameo, as does Tom Ryan, the Faces director.

Fortunately, I don’t have to worry as Black Wake is a fun little movie, that has ideas far bigger than the budget allowed, and does the best it can, which is  actually quite a bit. It’s hard to categorize Black Wake. It’s found footage, but doesn’t always feel that way. It’s part sci-fi with definite horrific elements. It’s kind of a zombie movie but not really. There are traces of The Thing, but only fleeting glimpses. It’s definitely steeped in Lovecraft (including an homage to the man himself when someone is drawing him in a mural on the wall).  Mostly, Black Wake is its own thing. Rather than simply copying the tropes mentioned, BW uses them as a starting point, and in Kipp’s sure hand, mixes them into something familiar, but uncomfortable.

Most of the movie is seen through the eyes of two government agents who are following a woman around, for unknown reasons, and we also see substantial parts from her point of view. It’s to Kipp’s and Janda’s credit, that they’re able to keep things close to the vest and keep you wondering what the hell is going on. While it can be a bit confusing at times if you don’t pay attention, information is repeated enough that you quickly get back on track.

Nana Gouvea plays the woman being tracked, and she does a great job going from someone who is seemingly rational to utter batshit crazy by the end of the film. It’s a role that could have easily been overplayed, but Nouvea’s Dr. Moreira is very restrained, and pitch perfect. Two of my other favorite performances were by Kelly Rae LeGault as the “specimen”, and Johnny Beauchamp as the homeless man who is the catalyst for everything that transpires. LeGault is fun to watch, combining creepy and appealing. Her scene where she runs into a car full of bros is one of BW’s strongest scenes, due to her performance. Beauchamp’s character is a far cry from Angelique in Penny Dreadful and shows exactly the range of emotion he can portray. When pieces fall into place, his character is truly heartbreaking.

There are several other names in blink and you’ll miss them roles including Tom Sizemore, Eric Roberts, Vincent Pastore, and Chuck Zito among others. They all bring a legitimacy and believability to the movie that might otherwise not be there.

Unfortunately the rest of the acting is hit or miss. The two actors playing the Google Glass wearing government agents are a weak point. Their lack of emotion is one thing, but they also come across as automatons, and aren’t really believable in their roles. Uneven performances aside, there are some issues with the story that keep it from being all it could have been. It wants to tell a story about mind parasites but doesn’t trust itself enough, so it becomes a pseudo-zombie flick which dumbs it down a bit.

The effects are great as is most of the CGI. The blood you see is mostly a black ink which keeps things from being as graphic as they could have been. There’s also a completely gratuitous sex scene/kill scene that adds absolutely nothing to the story except a few minutes padding. Which brings up my biggest annoyance: the running time. Billed at 90 minutes, it’s actually closer to 78, as the last 12 minutes are the credits intermixed with bloopers/cut footage. I don’t mind that necessarily, but here it feels like it’s hiding how short it is.

Beyond all that, BW is really a good time, and a great way to spend part of a Friday night. BW is creepy, effective, and in spite of its limitations, lots of fun.

Review: Poet: An Intimate discussion with Wade Radford

Disclaimer: I am in this documentary briefly, and also friends with the subject. In spite of that, what follows is an objective look at the film, and only my opinion.

One of the very first things I found out about Wade Radford was that he was a poet.This didn’t surprise me as his movie Twink (the film that brought us in touch) was nothing if not poetic at times. The first book of poems of his that I read was “Tough Blows of A Sleepless Universe” and I was, if not blown away, then at least suitably impressed. As further volumes of his work came out, the stronger and tighter his poems became. I suppose the culmination for me, was being asked to write a forward to his collection, “Ideations of Six Feet Under” . For me that volume is perhaps my favorite because it truly captured his honesty, anger and amazing amount of talent.

So, it was also no surprise when he told me that he was going to be making a documentary about his poetry. I was excited by this, as a movie by Wade is always a cause for celebration. The fact it was his first movie  in a couple of years, with long time collaborator and friend Jason Impey was all the better. I was equally humbled when asked to contribute to the film as a talking head (so to speak). I filmed my bits sent them off, and was able to watch the final product this past week.

In short it’s everything you might expect. And more. And less as well. In addition to my contribution we also hear from Jason, punk legend Honey Bane, and film producer Thomas Lee Bottom (who also funded this project). For the record, Honey Bane contributed one of the most beautiful songs I’ve heard in a very long time, using one of Wade’s poems for the lyrics.  The sparse musical arrangement suits this song very well, and Honey’s vocals are nothing short of amazing. This song needs to be a single and played everywhere, it’s that good.

Interspersed with the interviews are pieces where Wade ruminates on, well pretty much everything. These parts are less about the poetry, and moreo about what goes into them. It’s not every day you get to see the inner workings of a poet. During these clips we’re taken to places that have significance to him, and he explains why they have meaning. The camera work during these interludes is at times breathtaking, as much as what Wade discusses is heartbreaking.

We also see Wade reading several of his poems throughout, and as wonderful as they are, and as powerfully read (if a bit over theatrical at times), it interrupts the flow of the movie.

The interview segments are what you would expect from a documentary and all who participate have great things to say and some keen insights at times. We’re all friends of Wade’s and it may come off as a mutual admiration society, but this is about the poetry, not necessarily the person. This isn’t about digging up the dirt, but peeling back the layers to see what makes the heart of his work beat with such unrepentant ferocity.

At a full two hour running time, it does drag a bit in spots, and while I think it would have been perfect at 90 minutes, I’m not sure what I would end up cutting, because it all seems important enough to keep in. And as I alluded to earlier the poetry readings do tend to slow it down, but they are also worth the time they take.

Some may see Poet as a vanity project, a product of equal parts ego and hubris, and for some they would be right. For Wade however, he is open, honest, humble, and most of all doesn’t take himself seriously. His wit and charm is very evident, and the readings are a testament to his talent.

As I watched Poet, I couldn’t help but think I wish I had half his ability, and that’s about the highest compliment I can pay anyone. Poet shows why that  praise is warranted.

Poet: An Intimate Discussion With Wade Radford is available to rent or purchase on Vimeo. https://vimeo.com/ondemand/poetwaderadford