Hammer’s back…and they’re bringing Christopher Lee with them.

January 15, 2011

Hammer Films was resurrected last year with the critically-acclaimed Let Me In, a remake of the also critically-acclaimed vampire film Let the Right One In. Immediately, people began to complain that this wasn’t Hammer, it was just someone buying the name and slapping it on a horror movie.

I disagree. No, this incarnation of Hammer won’t make the same kind of movies as the beloved British studio did forty or fifty years ago. It wouldn’t survive if it did. Hammer Films from that era are a particular brand, a particular flavor that broke the mold in their time, but would be laughed out of theaters if released as contemporary productions today. So, the new owners of the name are taking what they can from the past and bringing it into the new century. That, to me, means (hopefully) a long line of good, entertaining horror from a studio dedicated to the genre.

Only time will tell. Let Me In was a good start. The next one out of the gate is The Resident, starring Hilary Swank and quintessential Hammer leading man Christopher Lee. Here’s the trailer:

Here’s hoping for the best.


“Han and Greta”

January 13, 2011

I’m doing something a little different today – posting a full story right here on the blog. It’s my entry for a short story contest at the blog Things I’d Rather Be Doing, which calls for writers to update an old fairy tale as a piece of modern crime fiction. I kind of walked into this one late, and it’s maybe not as polished as I’d like, but I think it’s fun and worth a shot. So, without further mumbling from me, here it is!

“Han and Greta” by Blu Gilliand

The house was brick, which was a surprise considering a carpenter lived there. It seemed to Grimm that it would be in the union by-laws: Woodworkers must live in wood houses. Support the brotherhood and all that. Putting bread on a bricklayer’s table? Hell, it almost came off as lazy.

He knocked on the door, which opened before his knuckles had time to make contact twice. A woman stood there, a nice looking woman with distress seeping from her eyes. Her hair, blonde, flew away from her head in places, like she’d been running her fingers through it instead of using a brush. 

“Detective Grimm?” 

He flashed his I.D., nodded. She squinted at the big, shiny badge. 

“Please come in. My husband called you. He’s in the kitchen.” 

She pointed at a room to the right of the foyer. Her hand was full of a drinking glass; the glass was half-full of something amber eating away at a couple of ice cubes. Scotch, Grimm guessed. And here it was, not even lunchtime yet. 

“Do you think you can find them?” 

“That’s the plan,” he said. She nodded, took a long pull off the glass. 

“Drink?” 

He shook his head and walked into the kitchen. The carpenter sat at a table, his hands clasped around a steaming coffee cup like he was trying to choke information out of it. The table was a rough slab of hard oak. Probably he’d built it himself. 

About time he did some work around here, Grimm thought. 

“Sir?” 

The man looked up. “You Peter Grimm?” 

Grimm flashed his I.D. again. The carpenter motioned to the chair across from him. “Have a seat,” he said. “I’ll get her to get you some coffee.” 

“She’s already offered Scotch,” Grimm said. 

“It’s not even lunch, she’s boozing,” the carpenter moaned. “What’s that gonna help?” 

“Not passing judgement,” Grimm said. “Just letting you know she offered.” 

The carpenter sighed, took a sip of coffee, and looked up at Grimm. His eyes were the red-rimmed, exhausted eyes of a man who’s gone three rounds in a staring contest with Hell. 

“My children,” he said. “Someone took my children.”

*** 

Grimm asked her to join them at the table, as she was the one who’d last seen the kids. She brought pictures of them to the table. They were twins, cuter than their names, lucky for them. They were his, not hers. She was the second wife. 

“Tell me what happened.” 

“We went for a walk,” she said. “In the woods yesterday. They love to explore. He was working, and they were bored, so I took them out. We followed a trail, one we always follow. It goes down to the river. They kept running ahead, going around bends where I couldn’t see them. I’d holler for them to stop, to wait. They did, but they kept getting further and further ahead. They got so far ahead I couldn’t see them or hear them. I kept yelling, but they were gone.” 

“Did you see anyone else around?” 

“No. I followed the trail all the way down to the river. They weren’t there. I came back up the trail, yelling the whole time. It was dark when I got home. I could barely talk.” 

“Did you check the woods around the trail?” 

“Some,” she said. “I was afraid to go in too far and get lost. There’s not a lot around here. I keep telling him we should move, this is no place to raise kids, but he wouldn’t listen. We should be in the city.” 

“The city,” he said. “With the gangs and the guns. My kids were safe here.” 

“Really?” she said. “You still say that?” 

“You always say they’re going to get lost. They know these woods like their own hands. Only you make them stick to the trail. Before you, they are all over the place. They still know the woods. I know they’re not lost. That’s why I know someone took them.” 

“Has there been any contact from anyone? Ransom notes or demands?” 

“Nothing,” he said. 

He thought for a moment. Looked at the photograph. They were ten, with bright, quizzical eyes. He didn’t think they were lost, either. He turned to her. 

“Take me to where you last saw them.” 

*** 

What he really thought was that they were hiding from her. He guessed this because of the way the two parents approached the situation. She was annoyed, angry, a little embarrassed. He was distraught, angry, a little desperate. It seemed to him that the kids were trying to prove a point, and she knew it, and didn’t like it one bit.

She walked ahead of him, refreshed glass of Scotch in manicured hand, leading the way. The carpenter wanted to come, too, but Grimm told him to stay. In case the kids showed up. Really, though, he just wanted to get her alone, see what else he could get out of her. 

“Right here,” she said. They had just come out of a bend in the trail. Here the trail ran straight down a steep slope and curved out of sight about fifty yards away. They’d gotten ahead of her, running down a hill she couldn’t navigate in heels. Gone around the corner and stayed gone. 

“How far from here to the river?” 

“I don’t know,” she said around another gulp of Scotch. “Half a mile? A mile? A long way.” She wiped sweat from her forehead at the thought of it. 

“You went all the way to the end?” 

“Yes. As I told you. Went to the river, came back, hollering for those little brats. They always do this kind of stuff.” She lowered her voice, sharing a secret between the two of them. “I don’t think anyone got them. I think they’re hiding. I think if we wait until dark, they’ll come back.” 

“Well, they’ve already spent one night in the woods, right? So that’s no guarantee.” 

Another long pull off the short glass. “Yeah. I guess so.” 

“Why don’t you go on back and wait with him? I can follow it from here. See what I can see. Maybe they’ll be back.” 

“Maybe,” she said. She finished off the drink, slivers of ice sticking to the sides of the expensive glass. 

“Might want to lay off the drinking,” he said. “Could be a long few days ahead.” 

“Well, thanks for the advice,” she said. She tipped the glass again, tongued the ice chips into her mouth as if to say, I’ll drink what I want, when I want. 

He shrugged and began walking down the hill. 

*** 

Where they were, it was dark, and warm, and smelled of sugar, and they were terrified. 

Greta had called the thing they were in a big birdcage. Han said it looked like a stripper cage. He’d seen them in a video, this rock band wailing away while girls danced in a couple of cages like this hanging above the stage. They sat in it, side-by-side, backs pressed against the cold steel bars, every movement causing the thing to pendulum slowly back and forth. 

“Stop moving it,” she hissed. “It’s gonna fall.” 

“Maybe it would break,” he said. “We could get out.” 

“She would hear it and come in here,” Greta said. “Come and get us.” 

“She’s not going to do anything,” Han said. 

“She’s going to eat us,” Greta said. 

Han wanted to say “No, she’s not,” but he couldn’t. Because that’s what the lady had told them she was going to do. 

Your mommy doesn’t know it, but I’m going to fatten you up and eat you up. 

She’s not our mommy! Greta had cried, but the woman had turned from them and gone into the other room, where the sounds and smells were coming from. Pots and pans rattling. A squeaky oven door opening and closing, opening and closing. Pounding and scraping and the whirr of a blender, all of it underscored with the lady’s flat, toneless singing: 

Patty cake, patty cake, Greta and Han
Put ‘em in a cake as fast as I can 

He hugged his sister closer. “Don’t worry. I’ll save us.” But he was only ten, and he didn’t know how. 

In the other room, someone knocked on the door. The other sounds stopped. They heard the woman plunk something down on the counter. She opened the door and poked her head inside, a shaft of light slicing through the darkness to illuminate her doughy face, mismatched eyes and horrible crooked nose. 

“Not a word, my pretties,” she said. “Be so still and so quiet now.” She held a finger, impossibly long and many-jointed, to her lips and smiled, showing blackened teeth as pointed as shark fins. She slid out of the light and pulled the door tight. 

Greta began to cry. 

“It’s someone,” Han said. “Someone come to help us.” 

But it wasn’t. 

*** 

“Surprised to see you here,” the old crone said. 

“I’m surprised to be here,” the carpenter’s second wife said. “But I had to be sure.” 

“Sure of what?” 

“That they’re gone. My husband called someone. A detective. He’s out there now, snooping around in the woods.” 

“He didn’t follow you, now did he?” 

“No, I sent him the other way. Down the path to the river.” 

“Good, good. Well, there’s nothing to see here, anyway.” 

“You finished the- you finished it?” 

“Told you I would,” the old woman said. “They’re sleeping now, in the arms of Mother Earth.” 

“What does that mean?” 

“Dead,” the old woman said flatly. “Dead and buried and gone, gone, gone.” 

“Where?” 

“You don’t need to know. And you don’t need to be here. Scoot on back to your house, now. Enjoy your husband, without the troublesome noise and interference of the children. Enjoy his money and his attention.” 

“What are you doing in here?” 

“Baking,” the old woman said. “I have a sweet tooth.” 

“Don’t you like anything but gingerbread?” 

“Oh yes,” the old woman crooned. “Yes, yes, yes.” 

“Got a drink?” The carpenter’s second wife held up her empty glass. 

“Milk,” the old woman said. The carpenter’s second wife rolled her eyes. “Sorry, but it’s all I drink. Goes good with the sweets.” She bent and opened the oven. The door screeched. She brought out a baking sheet covered with gingerbread. 

“How about a bathroom, then? I’ve had three of these – “ Again, she shook the glass. “- and I need to go.” 

“No bathroom,” the old woman said. “Go use your own. Get back, before that detective you so stupidly led into the woods gets back and wonders where you are.” 

“Excuse me?” 

“You are a fool,” the old woman said. “And you are keeping me from my sweets. Now get out.” 

“I paid you good money.” 

“Yes,” the old woman said. “You paid me good money to kill your husband’s children. And that I’ve done. I owe you nothing more, not a drink of milk or a pot to piss in. Now go!” 

“Don’t yell at me, you crazy old hag!” 

“What’s that now, dearie?” Her voice had gone flat again, and cold as a stream in winter. 

“N-nothing,” the second wife said. “It’s been…a long day. I’m sorry. I’m going now.” She moved to the door, but the old woman moved faster,  slamming the door with the disjointed, wiggling fingers of her free hand. The other hand had been filled with the thick wooden handle of a long, gleaming knife. 

“You don’t want to be yelling,” the old woman said. “This is my happy place. My gingerbread house. You don’t want to come in here and spoil it.” 

“No.” 

“I have your money. I’ve done the job. I want to be left alone.” 

“Yes. You will. I will.” 

“Will you, now?” The mismatched eyes narrowed. “I don’t know. You bring a detective into the woods. You come back here to make sure I’ve done the job. How many times will you come back? How many chances to be followed? To bring others here, and ruin my gingerbread house?” 

“None. I promise. I won’t ever come back.” 

The old woman held the knife up. The sharp point twinkled in the light. “I don’t believe you,” she said. She took in a great, gasping breath and tensed, ready to bring the blade down. But the door burst open, and the air filled with a popping sound, and the woman looked down to see two bright blooms spreading on her chest. 

“Drop it,” Peter Grimm said. 

She hissed, a horrible, sandpaper rasp of pain and anger, and took a quick step toward him. He fired again, putting one through her throat. She fell, landing on the open oven door, which tore loose from its hinges and crashed to the floor. Her head and shoulders flopped into the oven. Hair and fabric began to blacken, then burn. 

“Oh thank you, thank you!” the carpenter’s second wife cried. 

“You’re under arrest,” Peter Grimm told her. He pointed at the open window. “She was right. You are a fool. You talk too much. Maybe because you drink too much.” He took out a pair of handcuffs, tightened one around her wrist and latched the other to the refrigerator door. “You’re also way too easy to follow.” 

He grabbed the old woman’s ankle and yanked. Her head hit the floor with a thud. The smell of burning hair made the detective and the carpenter’s second wife cough. He grabbed a bowl from the counter, ran some water into it, and dumped it over the old woman’s smoldering head. 

“You can’t prove anything,” the carpenter’s second wife said. 

“Here, here, in here!” Two voices, small, frightened, urgent, coming through a closed bedroom door. Grimm walked over, raised his gun, kicked the door in. Saw the cage, suspended by rusty chains from an exposed beam. Saw the two kids from the picture. The boy looked over him, into the kitchen at the woman cuffed to the refrigerator. 

“You,” the boy said. “You do talk too much.” 

*** 

They all went back to the carpenter’s house, Peter Grimm and the carpenter’s second wife and Han and Greta. The carpenter wept when his children walked through the door. He seemed neither surprised nor sad to see his second wife in custody. 

“She never liked them,” he said. “I was going to leave her. I never should have been with her.” 

“It’s okay, Poppa,” Greta said. 

“Yeah, Dad,” Han said. “Don’t sweat it.” 

Grimm left them to their reunion. Got on his cell phone and called for someone to come and take the carpenter’s second wife to jail. Told them to send the coroner to collect the dead old cannibal woman from her gingerbread house. 

When he went back into the house, he found the carpenter’s bar and poured himself a Scotch.

– End –


2010: In the Books

January 1, 2011

Had a pretty good year as far as reading goes. I finished 40 books in all (not counting graphic novels), a good mix of fiction and nonfiction. Quite a bit of crime fiction snuck into my hands this year, most notably the last few books in Joe Lansdale’s fantastic “Hap and Leonard” series. I’m happy to say there are two more books in that particular set coming in 2011, including a novella called Hyenas in just a few weeks. If I had to choose one book (or series) from this year’s stack to recommend, Lansdale’s quirky buddy books would be the ones.

A note about my personal Top Ten, which appears below – I make this list based on books that were new to me. Some of these were publised in 2010, some before. I’m constantly mixing the old with the new, so I’ve found this is the best way for me to do it. Also, my list is unusual in that it’s ten books, but only five authors are represented. Does this mean I need a little more variety in my reading? Perhaps. But it also means I was reading works by five guys who, in my eyes, are at the very top of their respective games. Who are they? Take a look:

1. Lesser Demons by Norman Partridge
2. Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King
3. The Last Deep Breath by Tom Piccirilli
4. Bar None by Tim Lebbon
5. Johnny Halloween by Norman Partridge
6. Rumble Tumble by Joe R. Lansdale
7. Shadow Season by Tom Piccirilli
8. Leather Maiden by Joe R. Lansdale
9. Captains Outrageous by Joe R. Lansdale
10. Last Exit for the Lost by Tim Lebbon

I have no doubt that everybody who stumbles across this blog has heard of King. To a lesser degree, many of you probably know who Lansdale is. I’m betting Lebbon, Piccirilli and Partridge aren’t quite as well known. That, in my opinion, is a shame. If you’ve not read anything by those three, make it a 2011 resolution to change that. You won’t be sorry.

If you want to see a list of everything I read, check out the reading list tab the top. As always, I’ll keep a running list of my literary advenures in 2011 going here on the site as well.


“Costume”

November 19, 2010

So, Kealan Patrick Burke, the supremely talented author of books like The Turtle Boy and The Number 121 to Pennsylvania & Others, Midlisters, and quite a few others that you should have read by now, decided to hold a contest on his blog, Something Stirs: a flash fiction contest with a Halloween theme.

I had not written any flash fiction in a while – had not, in fact, written anything fiction-wise except for the Big Thing I’m working on – and decided to give it a whirl. Once I had the idea, I got it down on paper in about an hour. Tweaked it a little and sent it off, and a couple of weeks later got an email from Kealan stating that I’d won.

This is cool on so many levels. One, it’s Kealan, a guy whos work I’ve been reading from the beginning and admire a great deal. When someone you admire recognizes your own work, it’s pretty sweet. Two, it’s flash fiction, which I’ve had some success with in the past and am now eager to do more of again. Especially as I toil away on the Big Thing – I don’t want to take the kind of time away from it that it would take to write a full short story, but ducking out for a quick 500 words keeps things fresh without slowing my momentum on the Thing.

Anyway, you can read the story here, if you are so inclined: http://kealanpatrick.wordpress.com/2010/11/15/all-hallows-flash-fiction-competition-winner/. I hope you are, and I hope you dig it. And while you’re here, check out some of Kealan’s work. It’s good stuff.


Dracula: Prince of…..Slashers?

October 20, 2010

Every Friday night this month, cable channel Turner Classic Movies has been running three or four Hammer horror films. Thanks to this gift of programming, I’ve been able to catch up on a lot of stuff from the venerable British studio’s catalog that I haven’t seen before, including several of its Dracula flicks and some stand-alone stuff like The Gorgon. I was closing out this past weekend with a look at Dracula: Prince of Darkness when I began to think that something about it was feeling very familiar, but for all the wrong reasons. I knew I hadn’t seen the movie before, and it was playing out differently from the other Hammer Dracula flicks I’d seen. It wasn’t until a half-hour or so into the movie that I nailed it, a revelation that continued to strengthen as the rest of the movie unspooled.

I was watching a slasher film.

It was one particular scene that really brought it home for me, but afterwards I could see that the movie’s very set-up was straight out of Slasher 101. Two couples are vacationing together, travelling the world in order to “broaden their minds” when they find themselves stranded in a remote location near a castle that the locals won’t even acknowledge exists. Cirsumstances lead them right through the front doors of the castle, where they find no people but an otherwise welcoming atmosphere, complete with lit candles and a table set for four. As they stand around debating what to do, one of the men decides to head upstairs – alone- to check things out. And that, as we all know, is a big no-no.

Actually, the guy gets away with it, mainly because his friend promptly joins him in his search. They are soon joined by a hulking man-servant who offers a half-hearted explanation for the mysterious welcome they’ve received, and the four take to it willingly enough, sitting down to enjoy a fine meal before heading off to bed. There’s one suspicious voice among them, a shrewish gal who’s been complaining the whole movie (and, according to another characer, the whole trip), but her concerns fall on deaf ears.

That night, the shrew’s husband repeats Slasher Movie No-No #1, wandering into the strange house alone to investigate some noise or other, actually folllowing the noise into the basement, and this time he pays for it via what appears to be an ice pick in the back. If that ain’t slasher, I don’t know what is.

This turn of events eventually leads to Dracula’s resurrection, something I figured would bring a halt to the slasher movie formula, but the similiarities continue to pile up. Most surprising is that Dracula is portrayed this go-round as a mute killer. Christopher Lee doesn’t utter a word as the Count, instead doing his best Jason Voorhees/Michael Myers impersonation, popping up out of dark places with savage suddenness before disappearing into the shadows again.

The ending comes straight out of slasher lore, too, as our heroes (including the one character who knows all the villain’s secrets, a’ la Dr. Loomis) confront Dracula. There’s a battle, and at the end of the battle the heroes walk away triumphantly, convinced that they’ve vanquished the evil – so convinced, in fact, that they don’t bother to check the body. Hmmm….now where have we seen that before, and how did it work out?

I don’t know if any of the filmmakers behind early slasher classics like Black Christmas or Halloween have seen Dracula: Prince of Darkness, but if so I think they may have been influenced by it. And yes, many of the things mentioned here are staples of all horror, not just slasher films, but the beats here play out so much in tune with so many slasher movies it’s a hard comparison to avoid. The choices made – especially that of removing all the seductive charm of the Count, who I fully expected to have a field day wooing the two lovely ladies n his castle – make for a very different Dracula movie than most.

I’m telling you – if you could have thrown a hockey mask on Christopher Lee, put a machete in his hand, and upped the body count into the teens, you’d have a fine entry in the Friday the 13th series here. As it is, it’s a curious but thoroughly entertaining bit of Hammer history. Thans, TCM, for giving me a chance to see it.

Here, for your viewing pleasure, is the trailer:


Fall Fever

August 26, 2010
All it took was last night’s full moon, coupled with the tiniest hint of cool air, and I’m now experiencing full-blown Fall Fever.
Fall has long been my favorite season of the year, for a variety of reasons. For one, the summers here in Alabama are absolutely brutal, and Fall means that Summer is over. Don’t get me wrong – I like swimming and beach trips and seafood and all the things that signify Summer, but it all serves as barely enough incentive to overlook the crippling heat and humidity.
Besides, it’s so much more than the end of Summer to me. Fall is the beginning of so many of my favorite things. First, there’s football season, where I get to argue loudly with others about the merits of teams comprised of college kids (War Eagle) and arguably overpaid but inarguably talented professionals (Go Steelers!). I get to sit in stadiums surrounded by thousands of intense fans who live and die with every play. I get to hear marching bands, eat great food, take long walks across college campuses, and talk endlessly with friends about arcane matters like strength of schedule, weak secondaries, blitz packages and yards-per-carry. I get to hold my breath and yell in triumph and, sometimes, fight back tears.
Fall also kicks off the holiday season. From here on out, there’s one every month. Labor Day is the last hurrah for lake trips, beach trips, and poolside barbecues. November brings Thanksgiving, with its table-loads of food and gigantic family gatherings. December, of course, means Christmas, arriving in a sleigh filled with gorgeous lights, over-the-top
decorations, more family get-togethers, the joys of giving and receiving, and memory-making of the highest order.
Did I skip one? Nope – I saved the best for last.
October. Halloween. If I could live in one month all year long, it would be October. The air is crisp and cool. The leaves are falling in colorful drifts, leaving the bare skeletons of trees to scratch at the skies. Everything smells like apple cider, and the coffee shops are serving things like Pumpkin Spice Lattes. And speaking of pumpkins – they’re everywhere. Piled high in the markets, spilling out of containers at roadside stands, standing at attention on porches and stoops in every neighborhood, waiting for their smooth surfaces to be carved into ugly, twisted visages as Halloween draws near. The Halloween stores are open, and everywhere you go you bump into ghouls, ghosts, and zombies. Purple lights, black candles, scary movie marathons on every channel…I could go on and on. I have already,
actually. But that’s okay. It’s my favorite thing.
And this year, I have one more thing to look forward to on Halloween night. Traditionally, I close out the evening’s festivities with a viewing of my favorite horror film, John Carpenter’s original Halloween. But this year, thanks to AMC, it looks like I’ll have a pretty exciting lead-in: the pilot episode of The Walkng Dead, based on the outstanding comic series of the same name, and written and directed by Frank “Shawshank Redemption/The Green Mile/The Mist” Darabont. Here’s the trailer:
For many reasons, both personal and professional, this is shaping up to be a good Fall. But then, even the not-so-great ones are pretty good, you know? I welcome the season with open arms.
And to think, all of this spilled out of a five-minute walk in the moonlight….

Interview 5.5.5.: Norman Partridge

July 19, 2010

I’m debuting a new semi-regular feature over at Examiner.com today – an interview series I call Interview 5.5.5. The premise is simple: I’m grilling top genre authors with five questions each on five specific topics, and running the interview on the blog over five consecutive days. I’m pleased to kick things off with Norman Partridge, author of Dark Harvest, Lesser Demons and the upcoming Johnny Halloween. Click on over and check out Day One now….or The October Boy will visit you.


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