One of the best things about the Zompoc sub-genre is how widely diverse it is. You can go old school with some classic black and white voodoo hexes, such as White Zombie, I Walked with a Zombie, or The Plague of the Zombies, to name a few. There are the comedies, such as Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland or Return of the Living Dead. And there are the more serious minded zombie movies such as the works of the late great George A. Romero and all those wonderfully directed Italian zombie flicks (a good number of which will be reviewed during this year’s Fright Fest). But then you’ve got those Zompocs that are a bit harder to classify. Take for instance today’s morsel, PLANET TERROR. Upon my first screening it was hard to understand where this movie was coming from and where it was taking me. I mean, was it satire? Not completely. Was it serious? Not entirely. Was it expressionist, like those gritty foreign-made horror flicks? Not absolutely. Well, for crying out loud, what precisely is PLANET TERROR?
Before we begin, here’s an IMDb snapshot of the film:
“After an experimental bio-weapon is released, turning thousands into zombie-like creatures, it’s up to a rag-tag group of survivors to stop the infected and those behind its release.”
While we all can love and respect IMDb for providing once again a very in-depth analysis, that’s not entirely the plot of the film. The first part is spot on, there’s an opening with a shady looking group of gas mask wearing military folk lead by none other than Bruce Willis (playing the part of Lt. Muldoon) meeting secretly with another group of shady looking folk of the middle-eastern variety known in the film as Abby (played by Naveen Andrews). There’s an exchange that’s being made and like any good horror story, said exchange does not go as planned and the toxic chemical is released.
Also like any good horror story, there’s a gang of characters, each with their own history and who somehow or another get tossed together and must figure out a way to survive. Shortly following the military-toxic gas release, we get to meet some of those characters. The main protagonist is Sherry Darling (played by the babelicious Rose McGowan), a stripper who wants more out of life. Her dream? To become to the world’s best comedian. Seriously, no joke. And then we have Doctors William (played by Josh Brolin) and Dakota Block (Marley Shelton) whose seemingly happy American lives are not so surprisingly more than they seem. Dakota has a secret. She wants to escape. But there are some…complications. First, hubby Brolin has a healthy dose of paranoia that his beautiful wife is up to no good. Secondly, the zombie apocalypse is about to turn their little Texas hospital into a circus show of exploding boils, bite marks, and severed limbs. And lastly, Dakota’s secret lover, ex-girlfriend Tammy, breaks down in front of The Bone Shack and is eventually eaten…you know, zombie apocalypse and all.
There are other characters who add their own variety of flavor. There’s Wray (played by Freddy Rodríguez) an ex-gang mechanic who is pretty much the predominate badass until Sherry Darling takes his place. There’s J.T. Hague, the proprietor of said Bone Shake and also holds the secret recipe to the best damn barbecue sauce. There’s also Sheriff Hague (played by Michael Biehn) and his team of deputies, including the incredibly Tom Savini playing the part of Deputy Tolo. And there are more, of course. This is a Rodríguez-Tarantino joint film after all.
As we’re being introduced to the characters, random zombie attacks begin spreading throughout this little sleepy Texas hamlet. Eventually spilling over into the life’s of our heroes. Said attack ends up forcing Wray to wreak his truck and Sherry getting her leg torn off. I should mention here, PLANET TERROR does not lack in gore, in fact its one of its redeeming qualities if you ask me. Following the wreak, Wray ends up getting locked up in the local jail cause of his past history. Sherry ends up in the hospital, one leg short. And the world around them seems to be imploding. Doctor Brolin discovers enough evidence of his wife’s planned marital abandonment to take action, injecting her with her own anesthesia tools to keep her…pacified while he deals with whatever is going on with his hospital.
Like any good zombie movie, things quickly escalate. Soon, the entire hospital is in utter chaos. The patients are turning into flesh eating manics. The dead are coming back to life, so to speak, and attacking the living. In the ensuing battle, Wray arrives, freshly escaped from jail, and fashions a wooden peg leg for Sherry and tells her to suck to it, more or less regarding her currently one-leg short predicament. As Wray seems to be not only an ex-gang member, but also a freaking ninja, he shortly secures their escape and a band of survivors make their way to…that’s right, to the Bone Shack. There are “missing reel” effects throughout the duration of the movie which add to the effect that we’re watching a classic grindhouse picture, and so certain scenes end up jumping ahead or “flash forwarding.” Personally, I’m a big fan of jump scenes, so long as they are done right. Chronologically trudging forward can hinder the pace of a movie, especially a horror movie. But toss in a few flash forwards and you can keep that momentum going.
Needless to say, the survivors end up getting captured by the military who are still up to their no-good tricks. Our heroes hash out a plan to escape. Not everyone does. But hey, its a horror movie. We should be so lucky anyone escaped. You’ll have to watch the movie to find out though, I’m not going to tell you. Sorry.
As far as reviewing this beast of a film, I’m finding it difficult to list anything I didn’t like. And for those you know my taste for zombie movies may or may not find that surprising. On one hand, I’m what you call a Romero-purist. I like my serious slow paced zombie movies that follow the guidelines George A. Romero had established in his Dead Trilogy (Night, Dawn, Day). I’m not a huge zombie-comedy fan. But…there are exemptions. If done correctly, with purpose so to speak, I can get behind zombie-comedies. Return of the Living Dead (1985) is one of my favorite zombie movies. Gloriously over the top gore and packing one of the hardest nihilistic punches ever seen on film. As for PLANET TERROR, its not entirely comedic. It certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously. Fundamentally, its just a fun film catering to those with certain appetites when it comes to horror.
PLANET TERROR is like someone had tossed in Dawn of the Dead, 70’s grindhouse, 80’s splatter, Japanese body-horror, and blended it on high with a dash of kung-fu. The fact that director Rodríguez gave Sherry a machine-gun prosthetic leg gives a sampling of what we’re getting here. Mayhem. End of the world gore and violence and death. But not necessarily nihilistic. There’s an end “future” scene that has a PLANET OF THE APES kinda vibe to it as humanity turns back the clock and goes nomadic in order to survive in this new undead world. My advice, you need to add this now classic zombie flick to your list of must watches for Octoberween.
My rating: 4.5 out of 5
As of midnight, August 10th, 2018, The Last Hellfighter has officially become available for purchase in both eBook and paperback formats. The audiobook is currently in production with the very awesome Rick Gregory narrating. This latest novel is an adventure through history, as one young man fights to save his future, an older man must face his past. Future and past are united in this tale that sweeps from a not-too-distant peek into what America could become in the year 2044 (certainly within our lifetimes) and then we’re taken on a journey to 1917 Harlem New York, on the eve when America enters The Great War.
The Last Hellfighter was no doubt one of the heaviest researched books I’ve done to date–and it was well worth the work. Not only do I find that period of history fascinating, I also like the idea of being able to take readers to a different time and place, to show them something they’ve never seen before. If I had to sum up the book, I’d say it was as if Dracula and Salem’s Lot had a baby and the baby happen to be Cable from the X-Men who went into the past to slay vampires. Okay…maybe not that dramatic! There are definite hints of Dracula and Salem’s Lot within the pages of The Last Hellfighter. There are splashes of 30 Days of Night too, but in the end, this is an original story. One that I certainly hope is entertaining and thrilling to read.
“THE LAST HELLFIGHTER is an extraordinarily enthralling novel with a blow-me-out-of-the-water reader’s hook, set in the Port of Jerusalem, Maine (a beginning that rendered me speechless), THE LAST HELLFIGHTER wings us forward to the ugly and dismaying political climate of 2044 in the United States. The central figure is Benjamin Harker, native of Harlem, black WWI soldier, later Oklahoma homesteader–and vampire-fighter. I love this character (and James Reese Europe, jazz musician and WWI Lieutenant). I love and admire them, for their character [and] integrity,” –The Haunted Reading Room
“The Last Hellfighter is a piece of art, hand-stitched across a fabric that is rich in history and complexity. It has a narrative scope that is impressive. The pacing of the story is spot on, with hardly a moment that I didn’t feel compelled to drive on. And Flowers has crafted a monster that is impressive and frightening. And underneath it all, he has told a human story” –Chad A. Clark, author of the Behind Our Walls trilogy.
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.
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: Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf Man, The Mad Ghoul, The Leopard Man, Cat 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 Still, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Invaders from Mars, Them!, The Blob, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Plan 9 From Outer Space, etc. etc.
And then in the ’60s movies drew downward into psychological freights, with Psycho, Night of the Living Dead, Rosemary’s Baby, Black Sunday, Carnival of Souls, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, X: 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 Exorcist, Dawn of the Dead, Alien, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Jaws, Carrie, The Omen, Shivers, 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 Dead, Re-Animator, Nightmare of Elm Street, The Thing, The Fly, Return of the Living Dead, The Stuff, Hellraiser, Poltergeist, American Werewolf in London, Videodrome, Creepshow, 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 Madness, Candyman, Jacob’s Ladder, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, Nightbreed, The Sixth Sense, Ravenous, Sleepy Hollow, Silence of the Lambs, Baby Blood, Lawnmower Man, Cronos, The People Under the Stairs, Misery, Cube, Ringu, The Serpent and the Rainbow, Event 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.
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.
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.
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
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 Hines, Fats Waller, Benny Carter, Duke Ellington, Louis 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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!!
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.
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?
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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.
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.
Preorders are currently available for just $0.99!!
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?