Monday, October 30, 2017

Culture/Horror Diary - Day 11/6: You're a Destroyer

10/17/17 – 10/30/17

Since last we spoke, despite my pledge to keep going with Karl Edward Wagner’s collection In a Lonely Place, I’ve thus far only read one other story. It’s called “The Fourth Seal,” and it strikes me as one that was likely one of his more personal stories. For one thing, when he died in 1994, he was working on a novel with the same title – presumably an expansion of the story. It also deals with the medical profession, and Wagner was a trained (though I don’t know if he was licensed, or ever practiced) psychiatrist. Judging from “The Fourth Seal,” Wagner viewed the medical world with a somewhat jaundiced eye, you might say. The story is full-blown horror paranoia, and one of the angrier and more political stories I’ve read by Wagner. I also didn’t exactly love it, but at least it’s clearly from his heart, something I can’t say about “Beyond Any Measure,” the last Wagner story I wrote about. Or if it did, he didn’t get that on the page.
Coincidentally, on some level “The Fourth Seal” does line up with a couple of short novels I read last week, and the two short novels pair off quite well all on their own. One, The Ballad of Typhoid Mary by J. F. Federspiel, is, I suspect, a highly fictionalized account of the “career” of Mary Mallon, the titular plague-carrier. Mary spreads disease through New York City and environs, at first unknowingly, but after a while the awful truth of what she brings with her to every job dawns on her. Meanwhile, in The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf, a medieval village, and the castle of knights that rules brutally over them, become the victims of a plague of infernal black spiders, borne from the face of a woman who tried to outsmart the devil. Of course, Gotthelf never calls this a plague, but you don’t need to strain yourself connecting it to the Black Death, and the stories that have grown around that horrible bit of history (black marks on the face and so on).
The Ballad of Typhoid Mary is something of a dark comedy, the victim of its satire largely being  America and class; The Black Spider doesn’t have a lot of jokes, but class, and how too much money and power can corrupt, and too little can debase one’s morals, is all over it. Thematically, in that case, “The Fourth Seal” fits in rather neatly, though its pile of corpses is largely implied whereas Federspiel and Gotthelf heave them at the reader by the wagon-full. Each of these works takes place in a vastly different era, so I think another theme is that death on a massive scale is ever-present. Have a spooktacular Hallow-scream.
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It’s been so long since I posted that I never told you guys that I rewatched Jordan Peele’s Get Out. Well, I did! And it’s still fine! I made some points on Social Media about how the satirical point forces Peele to twist everything else to its bidding, and so as a story I don’t think the thing really works particularly well. But it’s still danged entertaining. Still, this “masterpiece of horror” nonsense can take a walk. Great cast, though.
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I also forgot to tell you dinguses that I saw Indestructible Man, directed by that science-fictionally named Jack Pollexfen, and starring Lon Chaney, Jr. as a dead murderer brought back to life via lightning, a gift he uses to hunt down his former criminal partners. It’s not much, I have to say, but there’s something about Lon Chaney, Jr. that lends almost everything he was in a certain poignancy. Spider Baby is twice the movie with him than it would have been without him, and The Wolf Man lives or dies by what he brings to Lawrence Talbot. Indestructible Man never hits those levels, certainly, not even close, but even so, there are worse ways to spend an hour.
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I’ll tell you an absolutely shit way to spend nearly two hours, and that is by watching Annabelle: Creation, a completely boilerplate evil doll Conjuring spin-off (this is the second one, at least!) that I had been assured was “surprisingly good” by I don’t know how many shit-brained nimrods. There is nothing to recommend it. It’s not unusually nimble as a piece of filmmaking, it doesn’t have any even meager, thin-soup kinda tricks up its sleeve. It has nothing for you or anybody.
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I finally caught up with Eric Red’s Body Parts. All I have to say about it is that it seems like the kind of film one makes after one has killed two people in a bizarre, psychotically-motivated car accident, not before.
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I got into a whole thing on Twitter with the director of Found Footage 3D (for the record, I did not seek him out), and I’d rather not tempt fate by getting into that again. Suffice it to say, the movie’s garbage and you shouldn’t see it. Also, I watched the 2D version of the film. I had no other option, but it still strikes me as an amusing choice.
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Tomorrow, Olive Films will be releasing two quite different films on Blu-ray. One is the seasonally appropriate The Vampire’s Ghost, a title that is ridiculous, and which puts me in mind of the episode of that show Morton & Hayes that featured Michael McKean as Mummula (“part mummy and mostly Dracula”). But the film, directed by Lesley Selander and written by John K. Butler and the great Leigh Brackett, is actually rather good. It concerns an apparent vampire loose in an African village (this is mostly bad because the white plantation owner is losing workers), but what distinguishes this odd, brief little film is the vampire played by John Abbott. Abbott’s vampire is very, very, very old, and while he is evil, he doesn’t wallow in it. He’s just evil, by our standards. By his own, this is simply how his life has always been. The weight of centuries of life is on his shoulders and in his face.
Of course, The Vampire’s Ghost is also the kind of film in which the vampire tells the hero “I can only be killed with fire, but of course, you would never do that” and its ending is more or less by the numbers. But Abbott is terrific, and I loved how wrong the heroes were on occasion, or how weak they sometimes were in the face of this supernatural being. It’s a surprising film.
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The other movie Olive Films is releasing tomorrow is the somewhat less seasonal Stay Hungry. Directed by Bob Rafelson, and co-written by Rafelson and Charles Gaines (based on a novel by Gaines), it’s a sort of mash-up of zany Southern comedy and zany, er, bodybuilder comedy? It features the first major screen performance by Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is weirdly good here; over the years, he’s somehow gotten worse. It’s been pointed out to me that by playing an Austrian bodybuilding training for the Mr. Universe competition, he wasn’t exactly being pushed to the bleeding edge of his talents here, but I was still fairly impressed by the unmistakably human being he puts across here.
He’s helped along by the fact that, for most of its running time, Stay Hungry is a pretty amiable knock-off of Robert Altman in a light-hearted mood. It even has an Altman-esque cast: in addition to Schwarzenegger, the film stars Jeff Bridges and Sally Field, and features R. G. Armstrong, Scatman Crothers, Robert Englund, Ed Begley, Jr., Fannie Flagg, Joe Spinell (who you’d want in your movie set in Alabama), Roger E. Mosley, and Joanna Cassidy. The loose plot involves Jeff Bridges trying to buy the gym owned by R. G. Armstrong to help out crooked businessman Spinell’s crooked real estate deal, but losing focus after he falls in love with gym employee Sally Field, and just generally having a great time with all these wackos. This being a romantic comedy, everything does sort of go tits up for Bridges, everybody gets mad at him, and he has to make things okay again.
What sinks Stay Hungry is that Bridges finds his way back into the good graces of his buddies and the woman he loves by (BIG SPOILER COMIN’) fighting off R. G. Armstrong who, it turns out, is a drugged out loon who tries to rape Sally Field. Well, at the end the film throws in the detail that Armstrong only got as far as trying to rape her, but the actual pair of scenes that deal with the attack imply strongly that he overpowered her. My guess is, at some point someone involved in the production realized that, even in 1976, it’s hard for a film to return to its previous light tone after something like that. And as it is, that “attempted” tag, even if I bought it, comes after the catastrophic lunacy of the crime, as it plays on screen, and the madcap antics of a group of bodybuilders capering through the streets of Birmingham. On top of which, you’d have to accept that attempted rape was sufficiently light-hearted to make the rest of this shit allowable.
So Stay Hungry is a decently enjoyable movie that very quickly becomes a ridiculous disaster. Enjoy?

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Finally, I also read, in the wake of his very much-deserved Nobel Prize win, Kazuo Ishiguro’s An Artist of the Floating World. Ishiguro is so good, his control so complete, that it frankly pisses me off. Read him.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just discovered your site; haven't had time to read it in detail, but, yes, Karl Wagner WAS a licensed physician and DID practice for a little over a year, in a mental hospital. He grew greatly disillusioned with psychiatry's theories and practices and, among other things, refused to prescribe shock treatments, which he thought harmful and not scientifically validated. When he learned he was to be transferred to the women's ward, where far more shock treatments are typically administered, he quit the profession and turned all his energy to writing.

~ John Mayer