Slasher Friday: Jason Goes to Hell (1993)

When I think slasher, my mind goes to the 1980s. Its the obvious pick of the litter, so to speak. The 1980s was certainly the Golden Era of the slasher film. But the 1990s had some damn good slasher movies too! What sets the ’90s apart from every other decade has to do with its brand or style of horror. The classic silent pictures of the early 1910s had its own with German expressionism and tales of old legends come true.

The 1930s and 40s had Universal Monsters, such as: DraculaFrankensteinThe MummyThe Wolf ManThe Mad GhoulThe Leopard ManCat People, etc. etc styled in this new world reconstructing itself from the maiming machines of the Great War. And then we had the “invaders” of the ’50s with its outlandish sci-fi horror-esk Cold War flicks, like The Day The Earth Stood StillInvasion of the Body SnatchersInvaders from MarsThem!The BlobCreature from the Black LagoonPlan 9 From Outer Space, etc. etc.

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And then in the ’60s movies drew downward into psychological freights, with PsychoNight of the Living DeadRosemary’s BabyBlack SundayCarnival of SoulsWhatever Happened to Baby JaneX: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, and so on and so on. And of course, who could forget the ’70s? The decade of Savage Cinema with terrifying flicks, such as The ExorcistDawn of the DeadAlienThe Texas Chain Saw MassacreJawsCarrieThe OmenShivers, The Brood, Deathdream, and so much more. And of course moving into the big hair and excess-excess-excess of the 1980s, with films like: The Evil DeadRe-AnimatorNightmare of Elm StreetThe ThingThe FlyReturn of the Living DeadThe StuffHellraiserPoltergeistAmerican Werewolf in LondonVideodromeCreepshow, and so many more, not to mention the birth of the Friday the 13th series and the modern slasher.

But in the 90s the monsters, in retrospect, seem to be more internalized, almost spiritual or more supernatural in nature than in decades past. Before moving on to our movie in review, lets examine for a moment the occultioris sensus of some of these spiritual-supernatural horror flicks, which would include: In The Mouth of MadnessCandymanJacob’s Ladder,  Wes Craven’s New NightmareNightbreedThe Sixth SenseRavenousSleepy HollowSilence of the LambsBaby BloodLawnmower ManCronosThe People Under the StairsMiseryCubeRinguThe Serpent and the RainbowEvent Horizon, etc. etc. And I know I’ve probably missed some, but still… Take a look! For the most part, pooling from a majority of movies, we can tell that horror withdrew from the overindulgence of gore and mayhem and, much like in the ’60s with the addition of supernaturalism, drew inward becoming a more spiritual-supernatural psychological thriller.

This brings us to JASON GOES TO HELL…

Strange as it may sound, JASON GOES TO HELL is my favorite Friday the 13th movie. While made in the 1990s, the film still retains a lot of the classic signatures of the slasher film and yet still retaining its originality. Taking a peek at the Rot-o-Meter, it feels as if I’m fandom is a silent minority. In fact, there’s a good many who outright loath this movie. Why? Because its not the same as the other Friday the 13th movies. JASON GOES TO HELL is different, not in the same way Halloween III is different Jason is in the movie. Instead of his usual form, the story follows Jason in his more demonic state. Blown to shit by the FBI or Special Task Force or whoever they are, Jason is reduced to his core essence, a freaking looking demon worm.

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Not that anyone is the wiser. The worm hides in Jason’s oversized black heart and transfers to coroner #1’s (played by Richard Gant) body in one of the most awesome gruesome scenes in the movie. Jason has no body, so he must reside in a host. It’s an interesting take on a classic slasher character…now turned parasite. JASON GOES TO HELL is still a slasher movie, but its almost more than that, its heavily supernatural, internalized, damn near spiritual and equally monstrous. To continue living, he must jump from body to body until he can find a blood relative in order to regain his former glorious form as a hockey masked machete wielding maniac. 

These “rules” are accepted story plots from glimpses of prized horror movie relics such as the Necronomicon, a little easter egg head nod to The Evil Dead. There’s at least one fella who knows the score. Duke (played fantastically by Steven Williams) is an ole western styled bounty hunter who seems to know a lot about Jason and the Voorhees lot. According to Duke, Jason had a sister, who in turn had a daughter, and the daughter had a daughter. But uncle Jason has no love lost, I mean technically he’s not even human anymore, that part of him died a long time ago. All that remains in the worm and the worm needs a blood relative host in order to regain its preferred corporeal form.

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Along the way Steven Freeman (played by John D. LeMay) and Jessica Kimble (played by Kari Keegan) do everything they can to stop Jason for good…basically by trying to stay away from him. But Jason, hockey mask or no, is an unstoppable killing machine. There are a lot of really good gore scenes, but my favorite has to be the Diner Massacre. The supposed name ought to give you a clue as to how wonderful that particular scene is…in a nutshell, four deaths, deep fyer drowning, jaw crushed in, arm torn off, impalement, enough gun shots and blood splatter to wet the staunchest of horror nerds dreams, oh…and one skull crushed. And that’s just one scene!

But why was JASON GOES TO HELL so hated? The movie sounds totally badass, right? 

When our beloved classics cross over into a new era, they likewise transform into the cerebral appetites of said decade. Consider Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, which was not heralded as a good Nightmare on Elm Street… Why? Because its not a Nightmare on Elm Street movie. The ’80s are…as they say, game over man! Done! Gone. Hasta la vista baby! When long running series’ transition into a new decade, the judgement and critique of the film becomes…well, a tad bit unfair. When we hear Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th we expect what we had back in the 1980s, but its not the 1980s anymore. If we were to be reasonably rational, we must critique said movie for the era in which it was made… Of course, a really-really-really good critique will look at both, if the movie is from a running series. Does the movie honor the decade past while ushering in a new take in a new era? While JASON GOES TO HELL has received some rather harsh criticism, my opinion on the matter is, yes, JASON GOES TO HELL does honor the past while taking a step in a new direction.

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JASON GOES TO HELL had some drawbacks, sure. Fans were hoping for what they’ve come to love, teen-slasher-gore. But that’s simply not what this movie was about. If we can push away from the table of Great Expectations, we’d see the amazingness this Final Friday brings to the table. Much like New Nightmare was for Freddy. I know plenty who hate that movie, simply because it wasn’t like the others.  Yes, they weren’t the slashers we remembered from the ’80s. But hey, the ’80s are over! In JASON GOES TO HELL, the action was well paced. The acting was a hell of a lot better than in some of the past Friday the 13th’s. The cast was solid. There was humor, specifically in all the mentioned Easter Eggs in the Voorhees House. The Uncut edition was chock full of gore and practical effects. It was brutal when it needed to be and it was supernatural when it needed to be. And the soundtrack was also very memorable. Overall, I thought JASON GOES TO HELL was a fantastic addition to the franchise, taking the ’90s spiritual-supernaturalism back into the gore-fest mayhem of the ’80s, or vise-versa…? Oh, whatever, you know what I’m getting at!

My Rating: 4.5/5

Reports on the Harlem Hellfighters part 2

The following is pulled from the late great jazz historian Floyd Levin’s book, “Classic Jazz A Personal View of the Music and the Musicians,” published with University of California Press, 2000. Mr. Levin is an award-winning jazz writer and has personally known many of the jazz greats who contributed to the music’s colorful history. Mr. Levin passed away January 29, 2007. 

Europe was already a well-established musician by the time World War I made him famous. In 1910 he had organized the Clef Club, a musical society for black artists in New York City. Two years later his 150-piece Clef Club Orchestra became one of the first jazz bands to perform in staid Carnegie Hall. For the first time, the Carnegie suspended its rules regarding segregated seating, and the bastion of high art reverberated with the sounds of “Down Home Rag” and “That Teasin’ Rag.” The concert’s success added prestige and altered the musical life of New York City. The club, which functioned as both a booking agency and trade union for black performers, soon secured many prominent engagements and opened a world of new opportunities for its members. Bud Scott told me that, within twenty-four hours after the Carnegie event, he received an offer to record several Joplin rags with a white banjo band.

The following year Europe formed his Society Orchesrta, which began entertaining wealthy New Yorkers at posh venues such as Delmonico’s and the Hotel Astor. (Noble Sissle, who with his songwriting partner Eubie Blake would later achieve worldwide fame, was a member of the Society Orchestra.) The orchestra’s initial jazz recordings, the first by a black band, appeared on the Victor label in 1913, four years ahead of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s initial releases and eight years before Kid Ory’s historic Spike’s Seven Pods of Pepper Orchestra California recording session. These early Victor records helped sustain the ragtime era.

The innovative Europe liked to experiment with syncopation, creating reed voicings, and muted brass. His use of saxophones brought a new measure of respectability to that instrument, until then regarded as a novelty device. His compositions, arrangements and orchestral direction reflected the ragtime style popular at the time and fostered the dance frenzy nurtured by the Jazz Age. In 1913 he became musical director for the successful dance team of Vernon and Irene Castle. His “Castle Walk” helped them introduce the fox-trot and establish the style of ballroom dancing that has continued for generations.

When the United States entered World War I, Sissle and Europe enlisted in the army together and organized a regimental band. The group accompanied the acclaimed [the 15th New York Infantry which would later become the] 369th Infantry Regiment, the first American unit to arrive in France. The brave black unit, including the band, earned the nickname “Hellfighters” for its participation in several vital military campaigns.

By the end of the war, the 369th Infantry Jazz Band ranked among the greatest bands in the world. Its personnel, as identified by Brian Rust’s Jazz Records 1887 – 1942, included Noble Sissle on violin, Herb Flemming on trombone and Russell Smith on trumpet. Flemming, only nineteen at the time, went on to have a long distinguished career, performing with Earl HinesFats Waller, Benny Carter, Duke EllingtonLouis Armstrong and Tommy Dorsey. Russell Smith became one of the outstanding lead trumpet players in the big-band era two decades later.

After the war, Europe proudly led his Hellfighters band in the nation’s first parade of returning World War heroes. More than a million fans, watching the victorious march up New York’s Fifth Avenue in mid-February 1919, gathered along the parade route to salute the heroes of the famed 369th Infantry as they strutted from Madison Square to Harlem.

Europe and Sissle had written “On Patrol In No Man’s Land.” during their tenure overseas, and it quickly became a favorite among U.S.veterans. Pathé leaped at the opportunity to capitalize on its popularity as the doughboys returned to the United States. It was easily the most successful of the eleven recordings the 369th Infantry Jazz Band made for Pathé in March 1919. Based on the success of “On Patrol In No Man’s Land” James Europe’s band scheduled an extensive tour of the country. Advertisements proclaimed” “65 BATTLING MUSICIANS DIRECT FROM THE FIGHTING FRONTS IN FRANCE – THE BAND THAT SET ALL FRANCE JAZZ MAD!”

Ironically, after surviving the deadliest war in world history to that point, Europe failed to live through the Hellfighter’s national tour. A member of the drum section, irate at Europe for what he considered poor treatment, murdered him on May 10, 1919. The funeral march took place in New York, the first public memorial service held for a black person in the city’s history. The somber procession followed part of the same route the 369th had marched in its victory parade just three months earlier. Lieutenant Europe was buried with full military honors at Arlington Cemetery in Washington D.C.

At the time of his death, James Reese Europe was only thirty-nine years old and at the forefront of the emerging jazz movement. We can only speculate about what further contributions he might have made had he lived another few decades. He was on the threshold of a brilliant career and might have become one of the most important figures in the world of popular music. His death came less than two months after the Hellfighter’s historic recordings for Pathé. In its promotional catalog, the record company proclaimed that Europe was “the world’s greatest exponent of syncopation. You hear every moan of the trombones, and every roar of the saxophones, every shrill note of the clarinets. The swing, the rhythm and the fascination of the Jazzing makes you want to dance! You can’t sit still!”

Jim Europe–along with Sissle Nobel, make a lengthy appearance in THE LAST HELLFIGHTER as a hero/father figure of sorts for young Ben Harker who follows the jazz legend by joining the 15th New York Infantry. Many of Europe’s exploits are mentioned or written about in the book including the very famous ragtime hit, “On Patrol in No Mans Land.” 

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The Characters of THE LAST HELLFIGHTER

I’m not sure where this need comes from, maybe something that bubbles up from back when I used to sit on the carpet in my room and play with my He-Man action figures, Skeletor and his forces of evil against the might of Eternia clashing in some equip battle created solely from my overactive twelve year old imagination. Back then it was about the toys, nowadays those same battles continue but almost exclusively in my mind. Nowadays, I love to imagine who would play the characters from my books, seeing as I had before with He-man and Orko and Beast Man and Battle Cat, a live action version of what I’m putting down on paper.

I especially had fun doing this while I was writing THE LAST HELLFIGHTER. With that in mind, I wanted to share with you some of the character profiles and my imaginings of what or how they look without getting all spoilerific. First on the list, we’ll start with the most obvious, the main protagonist of the book. And then we’ll go from there.

Benjamin Harker:

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Ben (as most people call him) is a native born resident of Harlem, New York City. His father and older brother, James, are hard laborers working for the city port, enduring long hours without much reward except for steady pay. The Harlem of 1917 is a different place than it is now, but in some regards the spirit has never changed. Ben is unafraid of putting in his time and working hard, but he has dreams of a different life, a life just as idiosyncratic as the jazz music that thrived on the streets of his home-city. As the GREAT WAR beckons and President Woodrow Wilson calls America to take a stand, Ben enlists into the newly formed 15th New York Infantry. His life will never be the same. AS for the actor to play him from the theater of my own imagination, I would have to go with Daniel Kaluuya. I first saw Daniel’s acting chops in the acclaimed horror hit GET OUT. His range of talent would be a perfect fit (I think) to play the leading hero in THE LAST HELLFIGHTER. The age range for Ben runs between 17 and 144, but with today’s practical effects, I think Kaluuya could pull it off.

Dwight Renfield:

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Best friend to our protagonist Ben Harker, Renfield (as everyone calls him) is a street smart kid who plays the part of a smooth debonair, especially with the ladies, but deep down there are a lot of insecurities. He has a similar love for jazz as his friend, Ben, does, but his passions are more or less attached to those he tethers himself to. When Ben enlists in the Army, Renfield follows. Leaving behind the woman he believes he loves, Mina Chandler. As for the actor, after watching Marvel’s The Black Panther, the part of Renfield was a no brainier. Michael B. Jordan as the physique and the acting ability to take on friend or foe.

Clyde Bruner:

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In many ways, Clyde is a mirror imagine of Ben Harker. A young resourceful man willing to do whatever necessary to defeat his enemies. As THE LAST HELLFIGHTER opens, Clyde is part of the near-future story that interweaves between past and present. As a mysterious sickness sweeps the nation, turning otherwise normal Americans into bloodsucking monsters, Clyde seeks a way of fighting back. When he was a boy, his grandfather would tell him bedtime stories of a man who fought vampires and saved lives. Tales of a legendary hero the world desperately needs to return. According to Clyde, Ben Harker (the knowledge he has) may be humanities only hope of survival. My pick for actors was AHS alumni Evan Peters, a younger actor with a lot of dramatic range. Evan’s can play the hero with a mix of innocence and vindication and passion necessary to pull off the perfect Clyde Bruner.

Mina:

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I’d be amiss not to include love interest Mina Chandler. A fellow native of Harlem, Mina soon attracts the attention of Renfield, but is Renfield whom her heart yearns for? Working in restaurants and clubs across New York, like Ben, Mina dreams of a different life far from the hustle and bustle of New York City. As for her live action counterpart, I had to go with Amandla Stenberg. Grown up from being little Rue in the Hunger Games, Stenberg portrays the perfect mixture of innocence and strength.

Professor Georg Von Helwing:

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In the iteration of the timeless Dracula story, there has always been a central leader, a source of knowledge and hope. In Bram Stoker’s original tale he had created Van Helsing. In my version, I didn’t want the same old same old, so I went back to the original source material and started shaping a new character from there. Professor Georg Von Helwing is based, more or less, on the historic person Georg Andreas Helwing, a Botanist and occult researcher of the 1700s. In the story, Professor Helwing appears to be a bit eccentric. Why would anyone, especially an old man, purposefully find themselves in the middle of a battleground on the Western Front of the Great War? But there is a curious strength and wisdom to Helwing that Ben admires.  As for actors, I envisioned the very eccentric German born actor Christoph Waltz who has played villain and a hero of congenial menace perfectly.

Countess:

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For every protagonist there must be an equally strong antagonist. Though not her original or her full name (that much is revealed throughout the story), the Countess is a powerful force that Ben encounters throughout THE LAST HELLFIGHTER. Her history and her intention are equally mysterious, but the outcome is nevertheless the same. Wherever the Countess walks, death is sure to follow. In Stoker’s tale he had Count Dracula, in mine I wanted a Countess — a female villain — that was more of a source of horror than the other conjured so-called gentlemen Dracs.  In my mind, I did not want aristocracy, I wanted a persona of power and corruption, something any sane person would flee from in terror. I did not want beauty in the traditional sense. As a fan of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot and of Tobe Hooper’s TV movie adaptation, I wanted something married of the two, a Nosferatu that was not mute but authoritative. One day I came across photographer Rick Jones’ work on a female Count Orlak (see for yourself). It was as if he had plucked the imagine right out of my mind. But who would I cast…? Sara Cridland is the actress in Rick’s photoshoot, but seeing how we’re going Hollywood here, my pick would have to be another AHS alumni, the wickedly talented Sarah Paulson. She would certainly have the necessary look and acting range for our leading villain.

As for the main cast, there we have it. There are a lot of other minor characters, such as Ben’s brother James, and hunting companion Father Bishop, and there are a lot of historical figures who make an appearance too. I’d love to cast them all, but we’d be here for hours. And I’m sure you have other places to go and books to read.

Speaking of books to read (nice segue, right?), THE LAST HELLFIGHTER is currently available for preorder. AND all preorders have been marked down to just $0.99!!!

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Reports on the Harlem Hellfighters 1

While on patrol in a French forest in 1918, the then-private single-handedly fended off an attack from two dozen German soldiers, defending himself and his wounded fellow sentry with his gun, then a club, then nothing but a bolo knife and his bare hands. Johnson’s grit saved him and his partner from being taken prisoner and prevented the Germans from breaking the French line.

Briefly, he was showered with glory. The French gave him the Cross de Guerre avec Palme, their highest award for valor. President Theodore Roosevelt called him one of “the five bravest Americans” to serve in World War I. The U.S. Army even used his image to sell victory stamps (“Henry Johnson licked a dozen Germans. How many stamps have you licked?” the advertisements asked). His admirers called him “black death” and filled the streets to cheer his regiment on their return.

Though hailed as a hero during the war, Sergeant Henry Johnson was almost completely disabled from his wounds. Subject to the racially discriminatory administration of veterans’ benefits, he and many other black veterans were denied medical care and other assistance. After he publicly objected to the mistreatment of black veterans, Sergeant Johnson was discharged with no disability pay and left to poverty and alcoholism. Henry Johnson, patriot and war hero, died penniless and alone in 1929 at just 32 years old.

Henry Johnson makes an appearance in my new book, THE LAST HELLFIGHTER, and there is a scene with Ben Harker mourning his passing.

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Book Insider: THE LAST HELLFIGHTER

Living with the mistakes of our past. Learning from them. Using our struggles and our pain to solve the problems of tomorrow are a few of the underlining themes in my latest novel, THE LAST HELLFIGHTER. Revenge as well. But also vampires. And about 100 years of jazz music…so there’s that too. Besides zombies, vampires are my second favorite traditional monster. Strangely though, i’ve only written one short story with bloodsuckers. Its not for a lack of love that kept me from tackling the sub-genre, perhaps more due to the over-saturation in the marketplace, similar to zombies. Why add to the already overcrowded closet?

Why not?

If there is a story to share–share it!

Besides, vampires are badass. So long as they don’t sparkle in the sun. So long as they are portrayed as monsters in the sense that your characters and readers don’t want to become one. Vampires aren’t glamorous. They are what they are, predators that feed on humanity. And so, when i crafted my first vampire story, i drew from my own personal favorite vampire reads. I love the supernatural vibe from Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot that became intermixed with human struggles as well as Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series. Along with more modern takes, such as del Toro’s The Strain and Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s epic graphic novel 30 Days of Night. And as a lifelong fan of the Universal Monster classics, I wanted some flair of Dracula without the aristocracy. I learned as much as i could from those who came before me with the hopes of coming out the other side with something respectful of the past while also being unique and something my own.

But its not just about the monsters. You gotta have a story too, right? THE LAST HELLFIGHTER took me about a year to write. Yup. You heard me. From conception to research. And more research. And mooorreee research, to pen to MS Word doc, to editor, to final draft. Why so long? I wanted the history to be as real as possible so that I could take readers to a real place and time that happened 100 years ago. A different generation with lessons that are still very much relevant today. Readers will travel to 1918 Harlem New York and journey to the Great War along with the famous 15th New York Infantry Rattlers, better known as the Harlem Hellfighters. The story also later jumps to the 1930s Dust Bowl. Vietnam War (1968). And finally with the Iraq War (2006). Threaded together in the not too distant future, 2044, where the last surviving Harlem Hellfighter has managed to survive.

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I’ve included some of the classic and not so classic vampire lore characters re-imagined. You’ll see Mina and Reinfeld from Bram Stoker’s tale, Dracula, including also Professor Helwing (the original concept of Helsing). Throughout the story you may recognize a few other names as well. Maybe even a few Buffy characters. Easter eggs, so to speak, for fans of the sub-genre.

And its not just about the story, there are inspirations and help along the way. Huge help came from Stephen L. Harris epic history book Harlem’s Hell Fighters: The African-American 369th Infantry in World War I. Also Timothy Egan‘s The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. PBS’s Great War documentary, and the very excellent and hard to find Men of Bronze, which included first person testimony from veterans of the Harlem Hellfighters. And a big thanks to photographer Rick Jones and his creation of a female Nosferatu, the inspiration for my protagonist. I’d be amiss also not to give a shout of to Michael Bray for his awesome book cover design. He took my ramblings and made something truly unique to the story. And a nod to my editor, Jeff O’Brien for piecing all of my incoherent thoughts together.

THE LAST HELLFIGHTER is scheduled to release through Darker Worlds Publishing next month, Aug 10, 2018.

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In the year 2044, reporters from the Public Relations Ministry gather at the home of Benjamin Harker, the last surviving member of the Harlem Hellfighters. At the age of 144, he is the oldest recorded man alive. Hidden among them, Clyde Bruner is looking for a different kind of story. Across the United States, despite the Great Walls and patrol drones built to keep America secure, something has found its way in. And now towns are vanishing during the night. Entire populations, gone. Only to return after the sun sets, changed, unholy, and lethal. And whatever this evil is, its spreading west. According to a bedtime story Bruner’s grandfather told him when he was a boy, Benjamin Harker has seen this before. He’s faced this scourge. Fought this evil. Survived them. Killed them. From the trenches of the Great War to the jungles of Vietnam to the sands of Iraq, Harker will search his past to save our future. But as each city light extinguishes across the country, is there no time left to stop what’s coming?

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The Last House on the Left (1972): MOVIE REVIEW

If a friend asked me, “Hey, Tommy, can you recommend a good slasher movie?” Off the cuff, I’d typically guide said friend to one of the many wondrous titles under the Friday the 13thfranchise or Nightmare on Elm Street. If they wanted obscure but tasteful, I’d most likely say The Prowler or The Burning. Those looking for something for date night, I’d recommend Scream or perhaps Silence of the Lambs. If I wanted to sound like an intellectual or one of those real classic film guys, I’d suggest Psycho. But if I were really brave…if i wanted to take the risk, if not in losing a friend and all credibility in recommending slasher movies, but also risk being looked at (at worse) like some weirdo pervert, well…if i didn’t care about that, then I would totally recommend THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972).

This isn’t to say that THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (TLHOTL) is a horrid movie. Its not. Its actually quite amazing. Raw. Brutal. Shocking. And truth be told, not entirely that fun of a film. Just how slasher flicks really ought to aspire. TLHOTL doesn’t wear a mask to scare you, it removes the mask, and in so doing is utterly terrifying. There is no pleasure in the depravity, except for perhaps towards the end when the protagonists’ parents exact revenge (more on that later). In Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street or even Halloween, we’re (mostly) rooting for the killer, “Yeah! Murder those dumb stupid teenagers!” But in TLHOTL, those very scenes are sickening and uncomfortable to watch. 

Before we continue, here’s a taste from IMDb:

“Two teenage girls head to a rock concert for one’s birthday. While trying to score marijuana in the city, they are kidnapped and brutalized by a gang of psychotic convicts.”

And in a nutshell, that’s pretty much it. Mari Collingwood and her friend Phyllis are as her parents tease at the beginning “part of the love generation.” Mama Collingwood also goes on to remark how she doesn’t understand why said “love generation” has become so violent. Its an off the cuff remark Mari simply giggles at, “Oh, ma.” And its also a remark the director (Wes Craven), in his first of many great films, plays throughout the movie. As the girls leave and vacate the isolated rural town for the city, on the way to a concert they look into scoring some marijuana (spelling out makes me sound old) for the show. Thinking they’ve found a dealer, they’re led to the safe house housing three escaped convicts. Things take a quick turn for the dark as we’re introduced to the villains of our tale: Sadie (a chick oddly enough), Fred ‘Weasel’ Podowski, and KRUG (all caps for dramatic effect).

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What’s interesting and slightly heartwrenching about these beginning horror scenes is how Craven juxtaposed the sinister kidnapping, torture, and rape against the more happier scenes of Mari’s parents getting the house ready for a surprise birthday party for Mari’s return from the concert in the city. As for the torture, don’t expect SAW level gore, this isn’t the Second Era of Savage Cinema of the 2000s. As per usual Craven style, less is more. Same goes for the rape scenes, though the usual slimy uncomfortable feeling is there, even with less is more…because there are some scenes you just can’t get away from.

After a night of unpleasantness, KRUG and company decide to make a run for Canada. They toss the girls in the trunk and begin the journey north. Along the way, the getaway car breaks down. And as fate would have it, they break down not far from Mari’s house. In the confusion and wanderings through the woods and more torture and sexual implications, Mari’s friend Phyllis tries to make a run for it, leaving Mari behind with KRUG’s doped up son, Junior. Unfortunately, Phyllis doesn’t make it very far and ends up (SPOILERS) getting stabbed and disemboweled by KRUG & Company. Shortly thereafter, the killers decide to cut loose Mira, but before they do they have a little fun with her, and when I say “fun” I’m feeling all sorts of dirty on the inside. There is another what we call “thought provoking” moment at the end of this yet another horrid rape scene. Finished, the three killer stand in a semi circle giving strange glances at each other, picking grass off their bloodied hands, looking almost…regretful, as if maybe they’ve gone too far? It’s an odd scene and wonderfully placed.

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Before being shot, Mira staggers to a pond. Falling in, she floats to the banks near her parent’s house. The gang plus Junior change clothes and take refuge in…you guessed it, The Last House on the Left. The Collingwood’s take them in, believing they are traveling sales people, but after Mama Collingwood see’s Mira’s peace symbol necklace on Junior, and both Ma and Pa overhear the killers talk about their heinous crimes, Mira’s folks soon discover her body just before she dies. Distraught. Shocked. Full of malcontent, the parents decide to take revenge upon KRUG and his not-so-merry band of thugs.

Throughout the entire movie, the local Sheriff is made to look like a bumbling fool. Thinking Mari’s disappearance to be nothing more than teenage shenanigans. And not thinking twice about the strange car parked on the side of the road near the Collingwood’s house, or at least not thinking about it until it was too late. That last scene shows deputy and sheriff barging into the house, and it is mesmerizing. The scene the lawman sees before him and the expression on his face is one of those chilling cinematic moments I will not soon forget. It begs the question, about the purpose or usefulness of violence. We saw it on the face of KRUG, Sadie, and Weasel. We saw it on the face of Ma and Pa Collingwood. Insatiable despair.

My rating: 4/5 stars 

Now on Audible!

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My First Date with SPAWN

Not to be too weird about it, but imagine yourself for just a moment that you’re a twelve-year-old boy. You’re walking through the store and like any boy of pre-teen age back in the early 90s you decide to go check out whatever comics are offered at this very obviously not comic book store in the magazine section while your mom shops for food and other boring stuff like that. As you peruse the offered wares you come across a comic the likes you have never seen before. Its gritty. Slightly graphic. Super dark. And dare we say, demonic.

This was me. Back in 1990-something, 1994 or 1993, I can’t quite remember. What I do remember is how when I first laid eyes on Spawn, I ran and somehow convinced my mom to buy it for me and I took it home and was hooked ever since. Spawn was…different. It wasn’t Marvel or the X-Men, which is what most of my friends were reading at the time. It wasn’t DC, an entirely different circle of friends. In fact, I can’t recall Spawn being popular at all with any of my buddies…I’m sure they read it and maybe even liked it on some level…just not on the same level as me. Spawn spoke to a darker inkling to which I typically wandered. And because it spoke to that dark side, it helped galvanize some of my own creative thoughts and ideas of what could be possible within the realm of storytelling.

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The badass covers helped. Those issues, man, from the very beginning are some of the best horror comic art I’ve seen. Todd McFarlane was known even before Spawn as leaning towards the more explicit in his artwork. If I’m remembering this right, there was a certain Spider-Man comic involving Wolverine piercing some bad guys eye with his adamantium claw. Or something like that. Recalling still, McFarlane didn’t care to much for censorship and ran with his own brand to Image Comics, creating Spawn…

…an Marine ex-CIA assassin who gets murdered by his best friend, Chapel, and sent to h-e-double hockey sticks and there recruited by a high-level demon named Malebolgia to join his army in a war against Heaven on the promise of getting to see his wife, Wanda, again. Agreeing to these shady terms, but truthfully…not sure who would turn down getting to leave hell, the demon sends him back to earth…five years later with the worse case of scatter brain and wearing a head to toe superhero costume. And the scars, did I mention the scars? Yup. Spawn aka Al Simmons was burned alive in life and as a kinda really fucked up signing bonus is now horribly disfigured.

The fact that this comic spoke to me at such a young age is disturbing…

Moving on!

In the first issue of Spawn, Al is trying to figure things out. He gets “flashes” of old memory. And as another high five from Malebolgia, another demon is sent to “guide” Spawn in this new role he’s supposed to play on Earth. The guide is none other than The Violator who takes the form (most of the time) as a short, fat, hellish looking clown. When he’s not Chuckles, he’s this really freaking looking monster with large bulbous eyes and long needle like teeth.

Through these first few comics, its really about Spawn remembering who he was and coming to terms that in five years’ time, everyone thinking he’s dead (because he was), including his wife, life goes on. Wanda ended up marrying Al’s other best friend, Terry, and they end up having a daughter together. And soon after, Spawn also begins to realize that he wasn’t just dropped on Earth looking like a walking piece of human toast, he’s got power, real devastating shatter this world kinda power. And that suit of his isn’t some mom’n’pops Halloween get up, it’s a living symbiotic entity with its own set of abilities. But there’s a catch…those powers of his are not limitless. There’s a clock, so to speak. Once he drains all his green glowing goo…boom, back to hell.

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This kind of story wasn’t something I was used to reading. As a comic marketed to young adolescent boys, there were layered intricacies. Spawn wasn’t just some Hellspawn with a host of awesome powers, he was also Al, a dead Marine ex-CIA assassin who lost his way but wanted to do the right thing. He loved his wife. He loved his country. But still, he wasn’t your typically “good guy.” Nowadays, the anti-hero is an overhanded trope. Back in the early 1990s, for me at least, it was not. Spawn showed me that characters didn’t have to be 100% good, that not everyone was 100% bad. That there were grey areas amongst the pure goods and evils in the world. Case in point, the story of Billy Kincaid.

As for kid’s comics, this was a dark story…but I wonderfully done one! Billy Kincaid was the son of some senator, an ice-cream truck driver, and a child murderer. His famous line being, “You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream.” Pretty creepy, right? Anyways, in issue #5, Spawn pays ole Billy and visit and gives him a taste of his own medicine, hanging him in Detectives Sam and Twitch’s office with popsicles stabbed into his corpse and a note, “BOYS SCREAMED AND GIRLS SCREAMED SO I MADE HIM SCREAM…AND SCREAM…AND SCREAM.”

Yes, this was a kid’s comic, mind you.

And so wonderfully not appropriate. Like any parent back in the 80s and 90s is really going to thumb through the begged comic before buying. My folks were none caring when it came to violent content, it was the graphic sexual content they did not approve. Very puritan, I know. And I’m sure this is how an entire generation had been raised to think subconsciously, that violence is okay, but sex is bad. I’m rambling now, please forgive me. The point being, Spawn did something good by taking out this really horrible person, but he did so in a way that was utterly grotesque. Most hero characters would have simply captured Kinkaid and gift wrapped him perhaps beaten but still breathing for the police to find. Spawn on the other hand…well, he at least gift wrapped Kinkaid, right?

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As far as Spawn comics go, its hard for me to pick just one that was the best. There were so many back then. Billy Kinkaid was probably the more darker ones, especially so early in the series. With storytelling like that, its no wonder how popular Spawn became. As you no doubt have heard or seen, there was that 1997 movie adaptation of the comic, written and directed by its creator…which goes to show that just because you can make a really badass comic, doesn’t mean you know shit about directing. Sorry. This was a really amazing movie for the first screening on that summer day in 1997, but every day thereafter…ugh.

In that same year, though, there was some grace to be found for Spawn. The HBO animated series took off with a bang, keeping more or less to the original comic story. If you haven’t seen these, you need to. Some are free on YouTube. Every bit like the comic is terms of dark, gritty, and bloody violent with that grey matter intrigue that makes you question what it really means to be good or bad. Which in a nutshell is the entire attraction to the Spawn as a story. Not everyday do you read something about a demon who questions his morality. That in his best moments tries to do some good, but usually makes a mess of things. And in his worst, is usually lethargic, and if not…well…think Billy Kincaid. And the best part? Here I am some twenty-three years later, still gushing over a comic book character.

That’s love, baby.

 

 

Reflections of an indie writer on 2017

It is customary at the close of a year to look back and reflect on ones accomplishments and ones failures. As writers, we think on the things that made us rise to an occasion and what we utterly fell flat on. What worked and what didn’t, so to speak, in our ongoing quest to put imagination to word and word to pen and pen to MS Word and MS Word to our hopeful next bestseller. Despite the fact that I’ve only been publishing since late 2014, I feel as if I have grown in leaps and bounds as a writer. No, not that I’m some huge bestseller. I’m talking real growth, the kind that counts (for me anyway).

In some ways, there has been some real growth for me as a writer. While dealing with personal issues, such as having my day job taken away due to a plant closure and struggling with almost constant depression and stress and doubt, I was still able to produce 4 novels, 1 collection, 4 audiobooks, and participated in 3 anthologies. And lined up projects for early 2018. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but when you’ve done something you ought to be proud of, there should be no problem looking back every now and then and giving yourself a little high five. We writers do this so seldom (well, most of us).

I’ve also learned more this year than any other that no writer is an island. The moment we think we’re alone is the moment we begin to question ourselves over every little choice and decision. This is very critical in the indie world as every independent writer naturally goes it alone. I think maybe because of this natural habit we have to be secluded is what drives a good many batshit crazy, making them feel like they can’t write simply because they can’t sell. More on this in a moment. The point of this paragraph is that even in the indie world, survivability typically follows ones ability to do two things: evolve and humility. Evolution, being able to keep a curious eye on how readers are reading and the technology that follows. Humility, being able to ask for help.

While being able to evolve with technology and market trends is helpful, being humble is way more important. Being able to reach out to a trusted circle of friends and fellow writers, bouncing ideas, and/or just plain ole venting has been super critical in my own survival as a writer. This year has been super hard for me (and a great many other writers). Both in my personal life as well as in my book sales. I don’t think there’s enough data to explain why book sales were rough for many indies this year. Much like the sea, everything is in a state of flux. Could be due to political reasons. Could be the weather. Could be a great many things. The problem I’m seeing, myself included, is that some of us indies got a little taste of success as writers and when that slipped away we started to doubt everything we were doing or why we were even writing in the first place.

Be it traditional or indie, being a writer must fundamentally come from the same place, this incarnate need to tell stories, to be that old man or old woman by the camp fire who gets tickled at the prospect of spinning a tale. Admittedly, this year I spent too much time looking at my own book sales and trends and allowing those to govern my belief over if I was a good writer or not. And what a horrible way to cultivate soil that ultimately should be enriched in imagination, hope, and joy. This year alone, I witnessed some of my best sales and some of my worst. If I was to base my success as a writer on sales alone, could you imagine how that effected my work? Or my ego? Or my pride?

Looking forward, there are some things that I want to improve upon in 2018. I want to continue reaching out and depending and likewise helping my circle of trusted friends…to remember that I am not alone. And I would also like to STOP looking at book sales, or at least limit how often I am. Once a week sounds a lot better than several times a day, right? And lastly, I want to write, and not just on what I think will sell, but on what I want. Zombies overdone? Who cares, I think it’s neat to imagine worlds with the undead. Vampires are an old hat… Whatever, I think vampires are cool. What the hell is a rainbow blob monster? Does it matter, as long as it was super exciting to write?

This coming year, above all, I want to have fun again.

Beautiful Ugly and Other Weirdness

While everyone is getting drunk on turkey today, I thought I’d bring to the table an announcement of which I am very very very excited to make. My latest collection of short stories titled Beautiful Ugly and Other Weirdness is now available for pre-order on Amazon!!!

Some of the stories within this new collection include:

Gone

Happiness

The Abigail

Ultrasound

The Witch of Staunton County

Marrow

The Ascension of Henry Porter

Apocalypse Meow

The Foree Farm Massacre  

Beautiful Ugly

The Philosopher

This collection has hints of Cronenberg-ish body horror, mad science, and otherworldly terror. Some of these stories were originally published in various anthologies NOW brought together in one collection.  Beautiful Ugly is the title story and one of the more bizarre tales I’ve written to date.  Marrow is the original story that was later adapted for PLANET OF THE DEAD, but I thought it would be neat to show how it looked before. The Abigail is my most hardcore science fiction story with a few nods to some of my favorite sci-fi horror movies, including Aliens and Event Horizon.

And much more…

Book cover by the always impressive Michael Bray. Published through Shadow Work Publishing. Releasing on January 23rd, 2018. 

You can pre-order YOUR copy now for just $0.99!!!

BEAUTIFUL UGLY FINAL

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Veterans Day Memoir

It’s that time of year again, folks. The day we honor our nations soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors. The day we recognize those who have served and put themselves in harms way. For those who know me personally will understand, talking about Veterans Day is not an easy task for me. I have been celebrating Veterans Day very differently for the past…what…dang, almost ten years since my enlistment ended back in February 2008. It has not been an easy journey, opening up about my experiences of serving 3 tours in Iraq has been a very slow process. But I have found the support of loved ones and writing has greatly helped me adapt. With this in mind, let me tell you a little but about my story.

I enlisted in the U.S. Army in Sept 2001 and was honorably discharged in February 2008. Roughly seven years of service, including three tours in Iraq, 2003-2004, 2004-2005, and finally 2006-2007. The last tour was probably the hardest, not only was my deployment extended for the great 2007 Iraq War troop surge (Operation Arrowhead, I think), but I took more hits than in any of my previous two tours, and on top of that, I had someone other than my parents waiting for me at home. My wife and I had just met a few months before I deployed. She stayed with me the entire deployment. We wrote dozens of letters to each other, we chatted on the phone and on the internet, and that’s if circumstances made it possible.


She supported me, with more than just care packages, but by giving me focus, reminding me that I was more than just a soldier. Being away from her was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Let me say, I don’t mean to sound callous towards my parents, I love my parents very much, but with my wife it was different. For the first time, I couldn’t imagine myself dying and not being afraid. Not just for the circumstance (bodily suffering) but for the recompense of leaving her behind (emotional suffering). I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to be robbed of this imagined life we could’ve had together. I didn’t want to lose that. And I didn’t want her to suffer for my loss.

In 2008, after being pushed by family to get into college, I finally agreed. I’m glad I did. College helped with more than just furthering my career. Slowly, through the course from 2008-2014, I began to open up. I didn’t really want to at first, again, back to the “glamorization of war,” I feared any attempt to recount my experience would be a cheapening of it, a cheapening of other veteran’s experiences by attempting to sell my own. I didn’t want to do that, but I felt drawn to write something.
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My first attempt was during a creative writing class into my second semester at San Jacinto Community College. The assignment was to write a short narrative story. I wrote, “There will be Ghosts,” which was my ode to both my experiences and the Tom Cruise Vietnam movie, “Born on the Fourth of July.” From there I dove head first into fiction-writing. I began a little science-fiction piece which never came to fruition, and probably never will. I consider these first works to be a learning curve, not something I’d want to see published. A dabbling, if you will, in the creative cosmos, finding my voice and all that fun stuff. When I left community college to enter the university (University of Houston-Clear Lake), I had to put my fictional writing on the back burner and focus almost exclusively on my history studies. While this may seem like a setback, I do not see it that way. In fact, I believe these two years of hardnosed historical study gave me an element lacking in my previous fictional-writing attempts. Dedicating myself to my studies gave me a depth I wouldn’t have been able to include in my work otherwise. My studies focused on 20th century Germany, namely the Weimar Republic and Nazi eras. I also took  Vietnam War history classes, Texas history, and the Civil Rights Movement, each class taught from the ground-up. This is a somewhat relative new way of teaching history. Traditionally, history is taught from the top, that is, from famous generals and presidents or other such impressive folk. From the bottom-up, history is taught from the Joe-Shmoe perspective, the everyday lives of everyday people. It was fantastic. A new way of looking at our world and the people that fill it by giving them relevance. In 2014 I graduated from the University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelor of Arts in History…now what?

 

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Suddenly I found this huge pocket of empty space. My mandatory studies were over with nothing to keep my mind focused on. I decided to get back to fictional writing no longer for term papers, but something that would keep my mind busy, keep me sane, and present a challenge. I wrote two short stories soon after graduating. “Hobo: a horror short story,” and “Are you hungry, dear?” Later I write Reinheit, my first novel. And from, the rest is history, so to speak. Today, I continue to write stories that draw upon my experiences, and I try my best to be a behind the scenes advocate for future veteran writers. Getting other veterans to open up through writing. Even if they do not want to publish, writing can be a great source of therapy, it has been for me.

As my way of celebrating today, I’ve decided to make a special announcement!

Today I am officially announcing the first two book releases for early 2018. The first book that will hit stores globally is a passion project of mine, steeped in classic monster lore and filled with fantastic history called THE HELLFIGHTER. No cover art…yet, this has been slow going due to the amount of research and information that’s packed inside the novel. I don’t want to spoil it by talking too much about the book, but it is a period piece that has settings in 1917, 1930s, 60s, and 2044 (not a typo). This story is part dystopian, part historic fiction, part mystery, and all horror. See below for the working synopsis.

THE HELLFIGHTER
THOMAS S. FLOWERS

In the year 2044, reporters from the Public Relations Ministry gather at the home of Benjamin Harker, the last surviving member of the Harlem Hellfighters. At the age of 144, he is the oldest recorded man alive. Hidden among them, Clyde Bruner is looking for a different kind of story. Across the United States, despite the Great Secured Walls and patrol drones built by President Adams to keep America safe, something has found its way in. And now towns are vanishing during the night. Entire populations, gone. Only to return after the sun sets, different, changed, and lethal. And whatever this evil is, its spreading west. According to a bedtime story Bruner’s grandfather told him when he was a boy, Benjamin Harker has seen this before. He’s faced this scourge. Fought them. Survived them. Killed them. From the trenches of the Great War to the sands of Iraq, Harker will share his story. But as each city light extinguishes across the country, is there no time left to stop what’s coming? 


The second book announcement…well, I actually have less information on but will be released before THE HELLFIGHTER. This release will be my next collection of short stories called BEAUTIFUL UGLY: And Other Weirdness. Michael Bray has agreed to the task of creating the book cover, so I should have some art to show to you soon. My aim is to have BEAUTIFUL UGLY ready for pre-order in December 2017 for an early January 2018 release. There are reprint stories from past anthologies and brand new ones, including the title story, Beautiful Ugly. I know it’s expected for authors to say this about all their books, but it’s true, I am really excited about this collection. In my first collection, The Hobbsburg Horror, I focused on a blend of classic Universal and Lovecraftian monsters. In this one, I rolled up my sleeves and got real weird with it including both storytelling and interior art.

Until then, thanks for reading and Happy Veterans Day!

Them! (1954)

One of the most foreboding titles among the many horror and science fiction movies, besides perhaps IT or They (which is just a cheap knockoff of the more impressive film we’re about to discuss), is 1954’s Them!. Among the many different creature features, be it swamp critters or critters from space or super mutant hybrids, bugs freak me out the most. As defined by the omnipotent Wikipedia, “Entomophobia (also known as insectophobia) is a specific phobia characterized by an excessive or unrealistic fear of one or more classes of insect, and classified as a phobia by the DSM-5. More specific cases included apiphobia (fear of bees) and myrmecophobia (fear of ants).” Now, that being said…I think my “fear” can be measured by mass. The smaller the insect, the less I get “freaked out.” Hence, small little pests like flies and mosquitoes are simply put…pests, easily swatted or shooed away. But on the other spectrum, the bigger they get, the more I’m apted to run away screaming. If someone were to make a monster movie with the intention of provoking the mass amount of fear from yours truly, Them! would be the quintessential experience.

But it cannot be done in a silly way. If you want a serious reaction, the movie will need to have a serious undertone. Them! is a perfect example of this. As a fan of most dubbed “classics,” basically timeless pieces of cinematic history, be it 1930s or 40s or 50s or 60s or even those in the Silent Era, I took double pleasure in the fact that this now 63 year old movie can still capture that tension, that wonderful feeling of dread so fantastically. Them!, not too sound too fan-girlish, is utterly amazing. By modern standards, Them! easily tops what producers consider to be blockbusters in not just storytelling and characterization, but also special effects. It makes me curious what original audiences thought when they first sat in their parked fin-tailed red and chrome Chrysler’s at the local drive-in, WITHOUT having been desensitized by years of modern computer generated graphics.

 

For those who have not had the pleasure, here is a quick synopsis of Them!

“The earliest atomic tests in New Mexico cause common ants to mutate into giant man-eating monsters that threaten civilization.”

Boom. You don’t really need anything more than that, do you? Needless to say, IMDb isn’t wrong. In a nut shell, those are the stakes. A mutated strain of ants are multiplying in the New Mexico desert and could very well threaten civilization. And not just any mutated ant species, but a mutation of the Cataglyphis genus, better known as Desert Ants. These sand dwellers are among the most aggressive of ant. The perfect bugs to supersize for a horror/science fiction movie, right?

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One of the fun aspects of Them! is how the movie starts off and is treated more or less throughout the entirety as a “detective” story. The movie opens with a patrol car doing their normal patrol and pickup a little girl, no more than six years old, strolling through the desert alone dressed in a nightgown and cradling a broken doll. They try talking to her but she is catatonic, speechless, staring blankly out at the brown sand. That feeling of dread we talked about begins to weave slowly into the movie and as the policemen investigate a nearby trailer, finding it mostly destroyed, pulled apart from the outside (they deduce) the tension builds even further.

The next scene certainly adds to not only the mystery but also the horror when police sergeant Ben Peterson’s (played by the very awesome James Whitmore) partner “disappears” off screen investigating a strange sound. He get’s off a couple of shots and then screams, that kind of scream that sends chills down your spine. The sound the officer investigates permeates throughout the entire movie. A familiar nature melody for anyone living in suburbia or out in the country. The sound of cicada or crickets singing in trees or in tall grass. Come summer, that sound is still quite pleasant to me, despite this film’s attempt to ruin it. Though, there is a lingering feeling of “what’s really making that sound? Are they, Them! watching me?”

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And I love how, despite the excellent movie art on the poster, knowing there will be giant ants in this movie, the story stalls the BIG reveal, forgive the pun, until the absolute right moment. And that moment, much how the newly brought on character, FBI agent, Robert Graham (played by man’s man James Arness), to its frustrating conclusion through the “comic relief” of sorts Professor Harold Medford (played by Santa himself Edmund Gwenn) and his “if a boy can do it a girl can do it too” daughter Dr. Patrica Medford (Joan Weldon). The Dr. Medord’s are not really that comedic, the old man is sort of how we might think brilliant old men are, a tad absent minded to every day tasks, but a genius in their preferred fields of study. And the female Dr. Medford, despite her strong grace of femininity, wasn’t overpowering or preachy. She was meek but smart and willing to go places most men wouldn’t dare go. In a decade before feminism really took off in America, it’s hard to place the purpose of her character. Regardless, I was and am very pleased with her performance, second to her father perhaps, how she was not the ditsy romance how most other movies place actresses. Harold may have been love struck, but everyone else called her Pat, a genderless name, and I prefer it that way.

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The reveal was perfect, as I said. A sandstorm kicks up and everyone’s goggled and stumbling around for clues. Somehow Pat get’s separated from the group. That chilling buzzing, ringing, clicking cicada sound starts again, getting louder and louder, and everyone is looking around wondering what that noice is and where it’s coming from. Above Pat on a dune, emerges a large black head with giant orb eyes long furry antenna and large sharp looking mandibles. She screams, alerting the others who begin opening fire, destroying the ant’s antenna (to the suggestion of Dr. Medford). The ant is killed and while the others are staring at this impossible horror, Dr. Medford makes a statement, the inspiration and message of the entire movie, I think. He says, “We may be witnesses to a Biblical prophecy come true – ‘And there shall be destruction and darkness come upon creation, and the beasts shall reign over the earth.’” He says something very similar towards the end of the movie, stating, “When Man entered the atomic age, he opened a door into a new world. What we’ll eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict.”

The Atomic Age…

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Full of sparking large logos and flashy gadgets and a new generation of fast food and drive-in theaters and modern jazz and rock-in-roll, but this was also an era of uncertainty. Hiroshima and Nagasaki awakened something in humanity. Something more than just awe and dread. Something darker and more pious than religion. The Atomic Age was this new fear of the bomb. Uncertainty over world powers, the growth of the Cold War, and a horizon in modern science to which many did not understand. Not knowing is the greatest fear of all, at least according to H.P. Lovecraft. The Atomic Age also gave birth to unnatural monsters such as Godzilla and Them! movies better known as Creature Features.

Them! acts as a cautionary tale. Be warned, what will await us on the other side of the door. Will science bring upon us destruction and darkness? Will man’s ignorance? Them! isn’t about the dangers of real giant bugs, its about consequences. That in everything we do or strive to bring about, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, as Newton had once said. Its a message every new generation hears, right? Cautionary warnings from the old folks rocking on the porch, talking about how things used to be.

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The rest of Them! takes on that similar detective story we were introduced to in the beginning. They hunt down the hive and destroy the giant ants with poison, only to discover a few queens had escaped prior. Now the once localized investigation turns into a global event. Hush hush, of course, to avoid widespread panic, the team with the added benefit of the military and select government officials quickly work to destroy Them! But the movie doesn’t end like some monster movies with the creatures being destroyed…there is a feeling of uncertainty, astute given the era, and we are left wondering if perhaps there are more giant mutated ants out in the desert thanks to atomic weaponry. And as Dr. Wedford said, “nobody can predict.”

If you have yet to see Them!, please please please do so!

Book Insider: FEAST

Characters are extremely important. Situational development is also equally important. Without solid believable characters or situation all you have is scenery. Pretty scenery combined with poetic languid soliloquy could do the trick for some novels. For others, its detrimental to show the story through the actions of others. Teaching something, questioning something valuable whilst simultaneously entertaining. I suppose it really depends on the kind of book you’re writing and what type of writer you are. Stephen King is a great example for character development. He doesn’t mix prose, he gets you into the heads the players in his stories. While Erich Maria Remarque draws in his readership with extremely well painted scenery and descriptively constructed prose.

What kind of writer are you?

What kind of reader are you?

Personally, I enjoy both styles of storytelling. I love getting inside the heads of the characters in the books I read. And I also love being painted a scene. I respect anyone with the talent for words that ensnare the mind and bewitch the imagination. What I read typically inspires what I write. I understand the importance of realistic and sympathetic characters whilst also keeping languidity in the back of my mind. What I write ought to be enjoyable to read, not some chore. If its a chore, good god what am I doing here, right?

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This past summer, inspired by one of my favorite Shakespearean plays, Titus Andronicus, I set out to create just that: to bewitch my readers with real people juxtaposed with expressive situational scenery. Maybe a bit twisted to admit, but I had a lot of fun writing this book. Twisted due to the nature of the play…and its very gruesome developments. The story and the characters that came out in this book pushed me into worlds and internal thoughts I have not dared to imagine before. While I do enjoy conjuring fantastic monsters, FEAST reminded me of the most horrifying of all horror monsters, humanity. Big shout out to my friend Travis Eck who came up with the design for the cover. I simply gave him a concept and he ran with it. Producing his own creation and artwork. Totally blew me away, as always, with his work and talent. He also did the cover for Reinheit and PLANET OF THE DEAD. Thanks is in order for Jeffery X. Martin for editing my blasphemous use of the English language. And shout out to my favorite Canadian author and friend, Duncan Ralston, for not only helping me with the formatting of this book but also inspiring me to delve into this subgenre (sewer) of horror I have only previously flirted with.

Some of the characters that will (hopefully) ensnare you…

Titus Fleming is the owner of Big Butts Bar-b-que and a father of three sons. His restaurant and “brand” is highly successful and a popular hot spot among the residents of Bass and Sat. But when one of his son’s commits a horrendous crime, the legitimacy of his name and business comes under question. He’s a simple east Texan struggling to keep both his buiness afloat and his relationship with his transgender son.

Tamora Lange is the mother of two nitwit sons and a daughter. She’s what you would consider to be a “gold-digger.” And her sights have been set on Titus’s Big Butts Bar-b-que kingdom. She’ll do just about anything to get her way including manipulation, seduction, and perhaps even murder…

Lavinia (Luke) Fleming is the son (daughter) of Titus Fleming. He (she) struggles with his own identity the responsibility his father thrusts upon him after the deaths of his (her) brothers. He hates the notion of gender but is forced to make a choice between being who he really is and who his father wants him to be.

Aaron works for Tamora and is secretly both Lavinia’s and Tamora’s lover. He hates both families without prejudice and would want nothing more than to see both houses burn.

Darren is Titus’s longtime friend and lawyer. He wants to help his friend grieve for the loss of his two sons while at the same time protect what’s theirs from greedy parties.

Chad & Drake Lange are the homophobic sons of Tamora and are both equally horrendous. They loath the Fleming family, especially after what Titus’s second son had done to their sister. And are appealed when they hear of the proposed arranged marriage between her and Titus’s surviving freak son Lavinia (Luke). They are more than willing to do what needs to be done in order to please both mama and their own murderous appetites.

The Mayors of Bass & Sat are the political heads of two feuding towns on a cross roads between Big Butts Bar-b-que. Bass is made up of nothing but farmers and bankers, while Sat is suburban and more populated. Both claim a stake in the barbecue enterprise and will do what they deem necessary to keep their residents’s bellies happy.

Here’s what reviewers are saying about FEAST:

“Two crazy red neck families fighting over a Barbecue business leads to a bloody, backwoods Texas battle, resulting in carnage and mayhem. Gruesome, bloody, and sadistic, and written like something Herschel Gordon Lewis would release at the drive-in, this is a colorful, entertaining, and fun read. I loved it!” -Randy Bates.

“Knowing that this book is based in ‘Titus Andronicus’ by Shakespeare I was already expecting a gruesome tale, but I have to say that there was even more gore than I expected. The rape scene was one of the crudest I have seen in books, even though, some details were skipped” -Amazon Reviewer.

“Flowers gives us a slightly absurdist take of the classic tale of two devastated families hell-bent on revenge…not only fantastically, horrifically violent, but also graphically sexual. I think Shakespeare would’ve enjoyed it” -Lydian Faust.

“These individuals and families might be from a tiny patch in rural Texas, but their currents run very, very deep…I expect I will have nightmares for quite some time. What a story!” -Haunted Reading Room.

FEAST is available on eBook, paperback, and audiobook on Amazon.

Feast by [Flowers, Thomas S.]

eBook…. $4.99 paperback…. $5.99 audiobook…. $14.95 free on Kindle Unlimited

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