Friday, August 29, 2008


Hey, everybody. I was given some very bad family news today, so I'm putting my blog on hiatus. Though the news is bad, it's undetermined quite how bad, so how long the hiatus will be is up in the air. Anyway, I will be back. I don't feel much like blogging right now, but I know I'm not done already. So stay tuned. I'll talk to you all later.

Intermission (Mr. Bad Example)

I wish I could do this. I wish I had the means, technology, patience, and -- let's face it -- ability. Jonathan can, so I especially hope he appreciates this, a recent YouTube discovery that I've been playing over and over. Maybe it's the song. God, I miss Warren Zevon...

The State of Fear - Part One

In 1974, a small group filmmakers and unknown actors from Texas, with a budget of less than $100,000 and driven by the simple need to make their own movie, began filming on what would turn out to be a landmark in inpendent filmmaking, and which would essentially ruin the horror genre for the next 34 years. And counting.

Not intentionally, of course. But Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the film that is at the far end of the graph whose nearest point is Hostel and House of 1,000 Corpses and the remake of The Hills Have Eyes and on and on. Now you might be saying, "But hold on, Bill R.! I like some of those movies! Not The Hills Have Eyes, or House of 1,000 Corpses, but Hostel had its moments. And what's that other one? About the creek?"

Yes, well, okay, there are not-untalented people working on these films (and it's Wolf Creek you're thinking of). But The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the film that issued in the era -- or at least legitimized the idea of -- horror as "slasher film", horror as gorefest, and little more. Sure, you can trace slasher films back further, even to Psycho. Psycho is the first major film to use a serial killer, as we understand the term today, as its villain, and as the source of its horror (although the twist aspect of the story doesn't make that clear until the end). And possibly Black Christmas has a claim as the father of this horror subgenre almost as great as Chainsaw Massacre. Both films have what can now be considered classic slasher plots. In Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a group of college kids get lost, and are eaten. In Black Christmas, a madman is loose in a sorority house. Both films came out the same year, and both films are far less violent than their
reputations would indicate. The big difference between the two -- and here's why Black Christmas exists as a cult movie, while Texas Chainsaw Massacre is seen as a classic, both as a horror and an independent film -- is that Black Christmas has its roots in classical Hollywood filmmaking, and Hooper's film, well, does not.

Black Christmas is structured as a mystery and suspense film more than a horror film. As the co-eds are picked off one-by-one, the police try to figure out who the killer is. Keir Dullea is offered to us as a possible suspect. The audience is invited to try to puzzle out the mad (and extraordinarily creepy) phone calls made by "Billy". We wonder who will be the next victim. John Saxon behaves awesomely. We grip the edges of our seats while the police try to trace the call, and are horrified by the plot turn that is the result of that trace (a twist that would be made famous by, and is forever associated with, When a Stranger Calls...which came out five years later. Fuckin' rip-off artists).

What do we get with Texas Chainsaw Massacre? In a film of roughly 80 minutes in length, we get five college kids on a road trip. They get lost. They seek help at the wrong house. Four are killed, one is terrorized but escapes, and we roll credits. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a huge success, and is the lazy horror filmmaker's rubber stamp. But what have subsequent horror filmmakers learned from it? That bad acting is no obstacle. That, despite the lack of gore, because it dealt with the most depraved kind of violence, an upping of the depravity ante could only work to their favor. That no story is plenty.

In other words, the wrong lessons were learned. Isn't that always the case? I don't feel that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a bad movie. I think it's overrated quite a bit, but it does some things extremely well. For instance, while there is nothing supernatural about it, the nature of its horror is unknowable and bewildering, as all horror must be. When Leatherface makes his first appearance, it is impossible for us -- and we can see that his soon-to-be victim agrees with us --
to understand what is happening, what this thing in front of us is capable of doing. The realization that this man wishes us harm, and is completely removed from such things as pity and conscience, somehow also clues us into the fact that he also has no gag reflex, or respect for human anatomy. This is not encountering some small human transgressor, like a shoplifter. This isn't even encountering an intruder in your home. The intruder might kill you, but he won't eat you afterwards. The intruder, if we encountered him, would fill us with fear and panic, even terror. If we were to encounter someone like Leatherface -- which we know is, technically, a possibility -- who knows how our brains would react? Hooper and Henkel's film seems to believe that our brains would begin to understand the depths to which this person will sink in order to cause us pain and himself gratification, and therefore shut down. Our fuses would blow, in order to protect us. Because that is horror. But what, pray tell, is Friday the 13th, Part 4?
I remember very vividly watching TV one night, some years back, flipping through the channels, when I suddenly came upon that movie (okay, it may not have been Part 4. It could have been Part Three or Part Five). I didn't know it was a Friday the 13th movie at first. The first thing I saw from the film was a nude, buxom young woman engaged vigorously atop a young man. I stopped flipping through the channels, as one does in these situations, and wondered what it was I was watching. I could tell it was bad, and cheap. The fact that they were in a tent should have tipped me off right away. In any case, my questions were soon answered, because presently a long, sharp, spear-like object was thrust through the woman's back and out her chest, and then jerked upwards.

The point of this very long post, and those that will follow, isn't to decry violence, even graphic violence, in horror films. If you're making a movie about flesh-eating zombies, you're gonna have to break a few eggs. I get that. But it's nice for these things to have some sort of point, isn't it? I mean, what was the purpose of the scene I just described? Because it wasn't to frighten the audience, I assure you. To shock them, maybe. To startle them. To gross them out. And then what? To make them laugh? Even if not that last one -- though I have my suspicions -- I know that the scene acheived the goal which was without a doubt at the top of the director's list, and that was to give horror fans what they'd come to demand from the genre by that time: tits and blood. This was their way of building off of the Hooper/Henkel film, and we've been living with it ever since.
NEXT: I Act Like an Old Man, Begin to Give You Some Idea of What the Hell My Point Is, and Most Likely Get in Way Over My Head

Thursday, August 28, 2008


You may consider this a sort of visual prologue for my post on Friday. If "visual prologue" sounds too pretentious, you may supply your own description. I can't do everything. What am I, your doctor??

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Affinity #2

This is an affinity based on two novels and one short story. But they've made their mark on me, and, while this post is technically a further example of padding, it will help lead to something I'm going to post more about this weekend.

"No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone."

- Shirley Jackson

The Haunting of Hill House


"My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death cap mushroom. Everyone else in my family is dead."

-Shirley Jackson

We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Monday, August 25, 2008

Boetticher's Heroes and Villains

Yesterday, I watched Budd Boetticher's Ride Lonesome, which I'd had saved on my DVR for many months. This was my third Boetticher film in about a year, and, aside from a surprisingly lackluster climax (specifically, the shoot-out), it was really terrific, as each of the Boetticher films I've seen has been.

It stars, as per usual, Randolph Scott as a reserved, Gary Cooper-esque sort named Ben Brigade, this time on the hunt for a back-shooting outlaw named Billy John. Brigade finds Billy in the first couple of minutes of this 73 minute-long film (a not unusual running time for Boetticher), and from there Brigade is off, taking Billy to Santa Cruz to collect the bounty on the latter's head. Along the way, he meets up with two other outlaws (Pernell Roberts and James Coburn), who want in on the bounty, not for the money, but for the amnesty; Karen Steele as a woman whose husband, who ran a stagecoach depot in the middle of nowhere, has been killed by Indians; and Indians. And all the while, everyone has one eye on the lookout for Billy's brother, Frank (Lee Van Cleef), who might be more important to Brigade than Billy himself.

So that's the story, and a tight one it is. But the thing about Boetticher is that the characters in his films, especially his villains, acheive a level of reality rarely seen in films from his own era, let alone now. Randolph Scott played the hero in most of Boetticher's major films, and his motives are usually typical (by which I mean typically awesome) of Western heroes, but the villains have a great deal more shading that I'm used to seeing. Look at Roberts and Coburn in this film. They may not be villains, but they are antagonistic, yet they do what they do -- which includes threatening to take custody of Billy from Brigade by force -- because they want to start their lives over.

Or look at Lee Van Cleef. I won't give away his part of the story, but when he arrives, his history with Scott seems to both disgust and frighten him, but he won't apologize for it. He just can't seem to believe that the horrible thing he did so many years ago is coming back now to bite him in the ass. Maybe I'm reading to much into Van Cleef's face in this one scene, but I was struck how unlike your typical snivelling villain Frank was. He's still a horrible human being, but he's a recognizable horrible human being.

And it's the same with all the major supporting roles (well, to be honest, the male supporting roles) in all the Boetticher films I've seen: Roberts and Coburn, Lees Marvin and Van Cleef (the former in Seven Men from Now), and, especially, Henry Silva and the great Richard Boone in The Tall T. These are great, subtle performances, getting across a lot of character information in their share of the barely 70 minutes each of these films lasts.

The Tall T was based on an Elmore Leonard short story, but there's a Leonard feel to all of these films. Leonard at his best lets his characters reveal the subtleties of their personalities and motivations through their conversation. His villains are stupid, or they're smart, depending on what kind of person they are. They're doing the wrong things for the right reasons, or they're complete human trash. And the hero may know that the man he's facing down isn't an evil person, but he has to be stopped all the same. It's the same with Boetticher's heroes and villains. With the exception of Scott (and he may not even be an exception; I've only seen three of these so far), you can't assume too much about any of these guys. It all depends on what you learn about them as the film progresses.

And why aren't these films out in a handsome DVD box-set, like the one Val Lewton's horror films got some years back? They're crying out for it. Somebody make it happen. Anyway, my next Boetticher film (thank you, DVR and Turner Classic Movies) will be The Man from the Alamo, starring Glenn Ford this time, not Randolph Scott. I can't wait.
EDIT: I just realized that, in this post, I did something I hate: I never once mentioned the writer. I did mention that Elmore Leonard wrote the source material for The Tall T, but I never bothered to credit Burt Kennedy, the screenwriter for all three of the films I mention.

Well, let me do that now. Kennedy's scripts are marvelous. There's an individuality to all the of characters, but Kennedy never once relies on cheap phrases or colloquialisms to distinguish them. You don't identify James Coburn's Whit or Pernell Roberts's Boone because one always says "Well ain't that a kick in the pants!" and the other one doesn't. You identify them because they sound like themselves (and also because one is played by James Coburn and is named "Whit", while the other is played by Pernell Roberts and is named "Boone". Also, their shirts are different colors). I know, that sounds perilously close to mystical artsy horseshit, but that's because this particular skill is both rare and difficult to describe (for me it is, anyway).

Two of my favorite exchanges (lightly paraphrased in both cases):

BOONE: I got a little place up in the mountains. It ain't m--
WHIT: You got a place?
BOONE: It ain't much, but...

And, okay, I can't remember exactly what Boone says after that, but I love that interruption from Whit. I don't really know if that was Kennedy, or Boetticher, or the actors, but it gave me that shiver of recognition, that realization that I'm hearing these guys talk the way actual people talk to each other.

And this...

MRS LANE: You don't seem like the kind of man who would hunt down another man for money.
BRIGADE: I am. almost certainly all Kennedy, and it speaks for itself.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

New Video Game Sunday!

I've never told any of you about this, but my day job is writing video games for Japanese game companies. Basically, I write the story, and the basic instructions, send those off to Japan, and then wait for the cash to roll in. This Christmas, I have a new one coming out, and I just received the translation of my work back from Kyoto. I think this one's going to be pretty big. Jump on the train now, folks.

Yakuza Scroll: Shoot Quickly or Die Fast

Background History:

In 1945 a America attack Japan with new scientific bomb called “nuclear bomb”. No one survives. The survivors rebuilt there cities, and Japan now is a succeed. Is there many strong buildings? Yes! Is there many success business? Yes. Is there many nice dance house? Yes. Is there many strong honorable? Yes!

But maybe a America bomb realize a demon spirit? Maybe! His name is Moromoto Shinji the Snake Zone, and waits under Succeed Japan…!


Today you are Steve G., of Kyoto Police Force (KPF) and you are a Kyoto Police Office. You work to destroy to incredible Yakuza, who bring nightmare world to today. Your gun is a 15 inch Super Steel Bullet Range with Laser Mounted Scope Device. You are a accurate shoot from one hundred yards! You work hard and live alone and wonder sometimes a “Why is my world so full of this night mares!?” You work hard to bring down Yakuza Gangster Sarukanji and his gang of murderous called Blossom strike.! For to help you, you are is a partner named Keiko of Kyoto Police Force (KPF) Lesbian Crime Squid.

And what is this Yakuza Scroll? It is your job to find out how or Sarukanji will realize Moromoto Shinji for ultimate super night mares!


To shoot, press AABBCA button

For supplement, press AABBCA and CDBBA button

For to dance, press UP key.

For to not dance, DON'T PRESS!

If you run, use controller keys.

For to pick up device, enjoy BBDA buttons TWICE

For to drop device, enjoy buttons differently.

Okay fine, Steve G.! The timing for your adventures is arrived. And don't forget this: enjoy your time, for shoot quickly…or die fast!

Friday, August 22, 2008

A Very Vigorous Actor

It's amazing what we're willing to accept in a film if we know going in that the premise is absurd. Almost any amount of plot contrivance is acceptable as long as we know that they know that we know that we're only buying any of this for the sake of our own enjoyment. If the film gets enough stuff right and doesn't act as though its absurdities would somehow fly in any other kind of movie, we'll allow it.

Anyone who's seen Theater of Blood knows how ridiculous its plot is: an actor named Edward Lionheart is killing all the critics who ever gave him a bad review, and his methods for murder are taken from Shakespeare's plays. But those who've seen it should also know what a strange and compelling movie it is. While most horror movies use as their unstated theme our fear of mortality, and of the unknown in general, this film, which is occasionally genuinely disturbing, actually has the balls to be a horror film about acting and criticism.

Vincent Price plays Lionheart. I think Price's greatest performance is in Witchfinder General, but this might be just beneath that one. He's creepy, deranged, and in one brilliant scene, he's absolutely heartbreaking. The scene is a flashback to the moment where the seed of his plan to kill these critics was planted. The moment takes place following the critics' annual award ceremony, at which Lionheart was expecting to win their Actor of the Year award. He didn't, and is devastated. The critics, meanwhile all meet up at a private party, which Lionheart later crashes.

There, Lionheart rages at the critics for ruining his reputation, insulting him, and giving their award "to a twitching, mumbling boy, who can barely grunt his way through an incomprehensible performance!" Devlin, the lead critic, has stated earlier in the film that he gave Lionheart all those scathing reviews to help pull the actor into the present, because Lionheart would only do Shakespeare and refused to modernize his style. So suddenly we've found ourselves watching a movie that's about classical stage actors being unceremoniously pushed aside by the new wave of Method actors? Apparently!

Regardless, in this party scene, even after Lionheart has angrily and publicly spilled out his anguish, the critics continue to laugh at him. After stumbling out onto their balcony, clutching the award he believes should be his, he begins reciting Hamlet's "to be or not to be" soliloquy. The camera is still in the room with the critics, looking past them, through the window at Lionheart, who seems genuinely shocked that in his moment of despair these people are still mocking him.

There seems to be genuine rage in this film, directed at the critical profession. The idea that a single review can ruin careers and trash reputations might be overstated (and as presented in a movie like this, it would kind of have to be), but at the very least the standard critic's rebuke that their savage comments are meant constructively and shouldn't be seen as hurtful is now and always has been laughable. I like reading a good negative review, one that wittily shreds a particularly lousy film, but, as William Goldman always says, nobody sets out to make a bad movie, and to see people insulted for their efforts...I mean, we all have our limits, and I don't spend my nights wondering if Oliver Stone is still smarting over that whole U-Turn thing, or hoping that Ashton Kutcher will someday learn to not take these things to heart. No, I'm spending my Friday night writing about a 35 year-old Vincent Price movie for an audience of eight, tops. But in the broader view I do realize that years of hard work is often cruelly dismissed in a few paragraphs. Hickox and Greville-Bell know that, and you can bet your ass that Vincent Price knew it, too.

But, really, the film backs off from all that a little bit. As nasty as the film can be (that beheading scene! Holy Jesus!), it does lose its nerve a little bit towards the end (although that weird final exchange and glance between Milo O'Shea and Ian Hendry is worth thinking about), around the same time that the murders become simply too dumb to be effective either as horror or comedy. However, I don't care, because, boy, what an odd movie, a pissed-off horror film that has a sense of humor about itself. But only up to a point.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Saddest Paragraph I've Ever Read

If you've never read the novel, at this point, very early in the story, Esther Summerson is a young girl being raised by a very unpleasant godmother. Esther never knew her parents, and has only known unhappiness. She blames this state entirely on herself. Her only comfort is her doll, named Dolly.

"I went up to my room, and crept to bed, and laid my doll's cheek against mine wet with tears, and holding that solitary friend upon my bosom, cried myself to sleep. Imperfect as my understanding of my sorrow was, I knew that I had brought no joy at any time to anybody's heart and that I was to no one upon earth what Dolly was to me."

-Charles Dickens
Bleak House

I mean, for Christ's sake, Dickens. Tear my heart out, why don't you?


This "feature" will be an ongoing series of pictures of artists (writers, filmmakers, actors, know, artists) that I not only like, but who I, you know, really like. In other words, artists I have a special affinity for. See? Anyhow, apart from this brief introduction, they will, I think, be picture-only posts. This sort of thing is known as "padding". So let's begin...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dostoyevsky's Lonely Man - Part One

So, you remember in my last post how I said that you might find posts on my blog about Fyodor Dostoyevsky? Man, I wasn't fucking around, was I?

First, I have to come clean about one thing. In that previous post, I realize that by casually dropping the great Russian novelist's name like that, it might be inferred that I'm some sort of amateur Dostoyevsky expert, or perhaps that I might simply have read a few of his books. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. No, in fact, despite being, I feel, a pretty well read guy, I have one (at least one) giant literary blind spot, and that's the Russians.
The Russians are the only group of writers to be so labeled; you never hear anybody say "Have you ever read the French?" or "You simply must read the Japanese" or "I feel the greatest novelists in history are the Americans". Yet you could conceivably hear people say all those things about the Russians. How many writers really fall under that heading, I'm not sure. For instance, I'm pretty sure the late Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn would not be included, despite the fact that he was, without a doubt, Russian. But he was a 20th century writer, and the Russians, I think, need to be from the 19th century. So Dostoyevsky's one, and Tolstoy, and Chekhov, and Gogol. And Pushkin. Who else?

Anyway, as I say, this had been a huge blind spot in my reading life. I've read two plays by Chekhov (The Seagull and Uncle Vanya), and several years back I took a valiant but otherwise doomed stab at reading Dostoyevsky's The Idiot. And that's been it...until now.

Yes, two days ago I started reading Crime and Punishment, and I feel pretty good about my chances this time around. Sure, the names are a chore (I've counted three different "Ivanovna"s so far, but for all I now that will be important later), as is the fact that these Russian bastards are quite intent on telling you every last bit of the story. A character doesn't decide to go somewhere, and then suddenly the scene changes to that new location. No, the character decides to go somewhere, and we follow him every step of the way. I'm also not sure I'm reading the best available translation. But this particular novel is, so far, basically like a 19th century Russian version of Taxi Driver, and once I realized that I perked right up.

Raskalnikov, like Travis Bickle, has gone mad well before we first meet him. He's a poor, unemployed ex-student (a fact which he seems to think carries a lot of weight) living in St. Petersburg, away from his beloved mother and sister, the latter of which is engaged to be married to a man of whom Raskalnikov does not approve. And as Raskalnikov goes through his empty, daily grind, he finds himself increasingly horrified by the world around him, and by the people who inhabit it. However, he does care about those who he feels have been kicked around and had their faces rubbed in the dirt, people whose lives seem even worse than his own. Like Bickle, he seems particularly concerned with the plight of St. Petersburg's prostitutes: at one point, he comes across a drunk young woman on the street and assumes she's a prostitute, and tries vainly to help her; he's also concerned that his sister might go down that same road if he interferes with her marriage.

Raskalnikov seeks justice, even though he realizes that the path to justice he's chosen is garbled, unfocused, and possibly evil. That path -- his "project" -- is something he's been thinking about for a long time, and it consists entirely of murdering, with an axe, and old woman to whom he's pawned certain possessions when he's found himself desperately short of cash. This woman has a younger sister, who Raskalnikov knows faintly, and who he's heard suffers terribly under her older sister's wrath. So he will kill this old woman, steal all her money, and use it to help the city's poor and downtrodden.The murder turns into murders, and are far more graphic than I'd expected. Like the final gasp of bloodshed at the end of Taxi Driver, the violence in Crime and Punishment is sudden, brief and gruesome. But unlike Taxi Driver, we feel the full moral horror of what Raskalnikov has done. Critics of Taxi Driver sometimes complain that Scorsese's film ends on a note that might imply the filmmakers condoned Bickle's actions. I've never bought that, but can we be honest about one thing? How many of you really felt a sense of moral outrage over what Bickle does. The men he kills are violent, pedophile rapist pimps. We can say that Bickle should not have done it, that this was not justice, that the police should have handled the situation. But if we read a story in the newspaper about a similar shoot-out taking the lives of similar victims, would a single one of us think, "Oh, those poor men"?

In Crime and Punishment, however, the violence offers no such catharsis, no matter how grubby and shameful. Raskalnikov is completely lost, even further adrift than Travis Bickle. Bickle, in his breakdown, was nevertheless able to focus his rage on one goal: saving Iris. The best Raskalnikov can do is crack open an old women's head so that he can take her money and divvy it out, Robin Hood-style. And this last, "altruistic" element of his plan becomes nebulous and evaporates almost immediately.

So maybe Raskalnikov and Bickle aren't so much alike. But they're both completely alone, partly by choice, and partly because they don't know how to not be alone. And they both see the world crumbling around them, and both can only imagine one way to make things right. One picks up an axe, the other picks up agun.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hello, Everybody on the Internet!

By my calculations, there are as many as 3700 people on the internet at any given time. It is my hope to lure each and every one of those people -- be they American, Canadian or Other -- to The Kind of Face You Hate, which is my new blog.

Hello. My name is Bill R. Don't worry, despite the mysteriousness of that single "R", I'm not going to write post after post about how the Bilderberg Group is pulling everyone's strings. No, this is going to be one of those rare blogs that focuses on things like movies and books. These are, I'm sorry to say, my two primary interests in life, but within these forms my tastes are quite eclectic, so expect to read about everything from Robert Bresson and Jean-Pierre Melville to Larry Cohen and John Carpenter; Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Kazuo Ishiguro to Donald E. Westlake and Thomas Ligotti.

A few words about the look and name of this blog before I call it a night. The title of the blog, The Kind of Face You Hate, comes from the film Blast of Silence. The alarming face you see beside the title is Dr. Mabuse himself, from Fritz Lang's The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. While my interests are, I think, as eclectic as I previously indicated, the darkness of both films, and particularly the deep pulp strangeness of Dr. Mabuse, should give you an idea of where my particular interests lay. So if you're especially fond of genres like Horror and Crime, you can expect both (and others) to be covered regularly.

The most important thing about that banner at the top, though, is that it was designed by my great good friend Jonathan Lapper, the man behind the very fine blog Cinema Styles. Without his encouragement and technical assistance, I probably wouldn't have started this blog. Well, not today, anyway. So thanks again, Jonathan.

PS - Content that includes stuff worth reading will hopefully be coming soon!

Friday, August 15, 2008

I'm Testing My Blog Now...Observe!

So, now what do I do? What, I write stuff, or...