Aliens Invade Your Ears! Black T-Shirt Books Goes International!

Big news! My first novel, Video Night, is now an exquisitely-produced audiobook. Narrator Matt Godfrey (who audio fans may know for his production of Micheal McDowell’s Blackwater) gives an incredible performance here and I am overwhelmed to have such a talent bringing life to a book that’s very near and dear to my heart.


If you’ve been holding off on checking out the book, now’s the perfect time to grab it in this new format. Or, if you’ve read the book when it first came out, now’s the perfect time to revisit. And if you’re a “eh, audiobooks aren’t for me” kind of reader, I think this might be the book that breaks you into the habit. As someone who didn’t consider myself an audiobook guy until recently, I have to say that I now LOVE the format. It’s a great way to supplement my reading while I’m doing the dishes or walking the dog. It’s available on Amazon, Audible and iTunes.

The OTHER piece of big news is that Black T-Shirt Books has expanded again. Please welcome the amazing Aaron Dries to the family by picking up The Fallen Boys: A Novel of Psychological Horror in either ebook or paperback. 


Author and filmmaker Mick Garris (Masters of Horror, Stephen King’s The Stand, Critters 2: The Main Course) calls it “A terrific book. Beautiful and brutal. Heartbreaking and incredibly emotional. I really, really enjoyed it.” And Hellnotes says: “It will upset and maybe even offend. It will trick you and make you wince. But above all else, The Fallen Boys will move you. This is a tale you will never forget, as told by one of the most important new voices in the genre.”

Aaron is flat out my favorite writer from the Samhain-era and I’m so happy he’s chosen to release this incredible novel with us. He’s a master of what I like to think of as tragi-horror, his stories imbued with such verisimilitude and melancholy that they all really put you through the emotional wringer while at the same time shredding your nerves. Which is very different from what the other writers in the Black T-Shirt stable do, but it’s good to mix it up, right?

As with all Black T-Shirt releases: both The Fallen Boys and the Video Night audiobook will live and die on your support. So please pick up a copy (or help spread the word, even if you can’t commit right now) and then consider leaving each a quick, honest Amazon and Goodreads review when you’re finished. It’s how we make our livings and how we get the word out about the books. Thanks!

That’s it on the announcement front. But while I still have you here, have you been to my YouTube channel recently? I’ve got new videos up discussing the virtues of Syfy’s Channel Zero: Butcher’s Block and another one foaming at the mouth over Arrow Video’s new release of Basket Case. Please subscribe and then come join the conversations going on in our (lively) comments section.

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In Every Dream Home a Heartache: Dream Home (2010)

I’ve always been interested in the way different governments codify and deal with “extreme” media. Like most horror fans this means that I have a fascination with (and healthy fear of) censorship. Although many enjoy griping about America’s film certification board, the MPAA, it’s important to remember that it is an independent, not governmental body. In many countries this is not the case, and though there are many problems with the MPAA, it does not have the power to ban a film outright.

This stuff is not ancient history (the Thatcher-era “Video Recordings Act” was during the late 80s, and even this year the UK banned Human Centipede II claiming no amount of cuts would get the film certified) nor is it restricted to the Brits (see Australia’s recent crack down on violent video games) but I would argue that no area of the world has a more interesting ratings system in place than Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s certification system (established in the late 1980s, before which there were no ratings but harsh restrictions on what could appear onscreen) is a series of categories capped off with the highly permissive Category III rating (Cat III). Cat III films require the viewer to be over 18, and although pornography is not permitted in HK (on the black market, such content is referred to as “Cat IV”) Cat III films are allowed to have a level of sex and violence (and often times a combination of the two) that would make any other ratings board balk.

Unlike the MPAA’s restrictive (and seldom used) NC-17, many films are produced specifically to carry the label of Cat III. Although many varieties of films find themselves carrying the label, within the HK horror genre, the certification led to the formation of a loose subgenre of cheaply produced HK splatter films. Films like Ebola Syndrome, Dr. Lamb and Daughter of Darkness consistently smash the boundaries of good taste, but have probably never been anyone’s idea of cerebral, highbrow international cinema. Ho-Cheung Pang’s Dream Home (2010) is not one of those films. It may be a Cat III horror film, it may contain stomach churning scenes of violence and brutality, but where the goal of the films mentioned above is taboo-breaking, Dream Home has satiric, intelligent and artistic aspirations…

But if that’s not your thing it also has a woman being suffocated using a vacuum cleaner, a plastic bag and a zip-tie. Yikes.

In fact, the violence in Dream Home is so extreme that cuts had to be made in Hong Kong just so it could be a Cat III film. If this doesn’t pique your interest, then you’ve probably haven’t seen some of these movies. I have no facts to back this up, but I have a feeling that the reason the HK ratings board was so hard on Dream Home was how GOOD the film looks.

This is one of the slickest horror movies you’ve ever seen, and the gorgeous photography only serves to enhance the unsettlingly well-executed gore effects. Speaking of gore, the FX are mostly practical with slight digital embellishments. Dream Home could be used as a good counteragument to those diehards who naysay digital gore. As with any tool, it just has to be used correctly.

The plot is simple: Cheng (the quite fetching Josie Ho) is a middle class gal with aspirations of being an upper-middle class gal. She’s going to get there by securing the apartment of her dreams (hence the title), but given HK’s economy and impenetrable housing market that’s easier said than done. In many ways this is the world’s first “real estate horror” movie, and to make it a lot less boring than it sounds the narrative is fractured. We jump back and forth in Cheng’s life, from her childhood to the point where she decides to take up arms (a box cutter, some zip-ties and her grandfather’s toolbelt) against the tenants of a luxury high-rise. This temporal hopscotch ensures that a splatter set-piece is delivered about once every ten minutes, keeping our attention.

I love the ideas that fuel the film, I love parts of the film, but I do not love Dream Home.

Like the best genre works, Dream Home is a movie that engages the world around it. It is a movie that not only offers entertainment (of a pitch-dark variety) but also societal commentary. Although it is steeped in localisms, you don’t have to know a bunch about the history of Hong Kong to enjoy it (in fact, there is a brief text primer on the Chinese “handover” and Hong Kong’s political and economic situation at the beginning of the film). If anything, it helps looking at the movie with American eyes: these desires and economic woes are universal.

Dream Home is a difficult movie to discuss, because I think I enjoy it a whole lot more in theory than I do in execution. It’s got problems. And chief among them is pacing. The movie starts with its best sequences, by the middle the audience can predict the ending (down to the final shot), and in the end the crescendo it tries to build to is the only action sequence that rings hollow.

So do I recommend you seek it out? Yes. With enough blood spillage to appeal to gorehounds and enough thought behind it that it will appeal to pseudo-academics like myself, the film is worth it although I doubt it will 100% satisfy either camp.

Dream House is on Netflix Instant in HD (which is probably as good/slightly better than the DVD if you have a fast enough connection). If you’re a Netflix ex-pat, there’s always Amazon.

It was released uncut stateside by IFC, so kudos to them (they also gave a release to the excellent Pontypool. It seems that as they decline as a network, they’re growing as a distribution channel). I don’t speak Cantonese, but I do have to say that the subtitles seem a little hinky. Then again, maybe that’s how the dialog sounds in it’s original language. Sadly there seems to be no blu-ray in any country, that’s a shame because the film is very nice looking.

The Value of Shock

Disclaimer: Yeah, there are like fifteen hundred other reviews of this book bouncing around the internet. I know. But I went to a store and bought this last week, so you’re gonna have to indulge me while I put down some thoughts.

There are very few nonfiction books written about horror films that aren’t either: a) breezy, fan-written overviews of the genre, which are generally full of hyperbole and geek-bias or b) so overly academic that they preclude enjoyment. In Shock Value, Jason Zinoman solves this problem by approaching his chosen material as both an intelligent fan (the guy wrote for the New York Times and Vanity Fair) and by focusing the majority of his attention on the interesting—and often untold—human stories behind the production of these films.

Zinoman’s area of interest is the dawn of “New Horror” in the 1970s. As you probably know, there’s not a whole lot left to say about Halloween, The Exorcist, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, or Rosemary’s Baby. These films have been poked and prodded, reconstructed and deconstructed under every possible critical and academic lens. Wisely, Zinoman chooses to take a closer look at the creators of these films over in-depth analysis of the films themselves. He examines both the cultural climate of the time in which these men were working and their relationships to each other (relationships which range from playful thematic discourse to professional symbiosis to downright adversarial). Through extensive and candid interviews with filmmakers like John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper and a host of their collaborators Zinoman creates intriguing miniature portraits of the men themselves, but also to tell the larger story of the movement they forged. These are men we don’t hear from a lot (promo material for DVDs barely counts, and that’s not the kind of engagement they give Zinoman). Many of their stories are quite fascinating and will often offer deeper insights into their work.

Worthy of special mention is the large swath of time Zinoman takes discussing the life and work of the late Dan O’Bannon. It’s great that this lesser-respected, semi-kooky, but very important figure in genre cinema gets to tell his side of the story one last time in the pages of Shock Value. For me, this alone was worth the price of the book.

How much enjoyment you yourself will derive from Shock Value, probably depends on your level of open-mindedness and readiness to interact with a text that you may not agree with at all times. The hardest of the hardcore horror fans will probably find much of the ground covered to be familiar, and even if they don’t they will possibly take offense to Zinoman’s frank appraisal of horror post-the advent of New Horror. The author approaches the men he’s studying in a very smart way, and is very quick to point out how well-read his subjects were as young men. By the time he reaches his conclusion he makes two fairly controversial assertions. First he points out the unfortunate trend that many of these filmmakers were never able to top their early (and in most cases, first) works. This is unpleasant, but it’s also pretty objectively the truth. Zinoman then implies that the reason there has never been another boom in horror comparable with the 1970s, is because once the conventions of the genre were established, the genre fed on itself (and only on itself) until stagnation. Zinoman attributes this decline to the fact that while Craven and Carpenter took their ideas of what was frightening from the works of Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett, younger filmmakers were getting their same conceptions exclusively from Craven and Carpenter.

If that last sentence raised your ire—if you’re ready to hurl lame insults like “elitist” and “portentous” at Zinoman—then maybe you won’t enjoy Shock Value. But you also might be the person who needs to read it the most.

Classics Get Genred: ‘Black Swan’ and ‘Enter The Void’ Reconfigure Cinema’s Past

The most prominent and flattering quote on the promo materials for maverick-Frenchman Gaspar Noe’s latest film, Enter The Void, comes from the New York Times who exclaim: “Exceptional…this is the work of an artist who’s trying to show us something we haven’t seen before.”

I would agree with that statement wholeheartedly, although if I were to write that blurb I’d probably have included an asterisk. You see, from my perspective, Enter The Void fits nicely on the shelf with another of this year’s great films: Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. Both are in part an attempt to forge something new and original out of the spirit of an already great film. Sitting in Cambridge’s lovely Brattle Theater and watching Noe’s film I found it nearly impossible to not think of another three-hour headtrip I had previously seen at the same venue, nearly in the same seat: Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).

2001 is one of those films that tests the mettle of young film fans. From my experience, it’s the film that you watch first when you’re too naive to handle it and therefore you despise it. The contrarian nature of your younger self condemns it as self-indulgent and boring (both phrases that your younger self has probably not yet acquired). Later, maybe in college, or maybe the summer before: you see it again. This time it clicks. Not just the iconic music and memorable sequences (“I can feel it Dave”) but the little things: i.e. the methodology behind Pan-Am’s future in-flight meals. From then on you’re hooked, you might as well get Hal-9000’s name tattooed on your bicep. I bet that something similar happened to Gaspar Noe, because Enter the Void, for all of its inventiveness (and, believe me, it has that in spades) is just a filmmaker’s thoughtful reconfiguring of the movie he so clearly loves.

A character in Enter the Void remarks that “dying is the ultimate trip” how ironic that “The Ultimate Trip” happens to be the tagline used on one of the posters for 2001. This is not to say that fans of Kubrick’s film will love (0r even recognize the similarities in) Enter the Void, but the film does deliberately make structural, tonal and (in some cases) visual, callbacks to Kubrick’s zonked-out space epic. I’m not the first person to note this (in fact, in the Times article quoted on the poster, Dargis does single-out such similarities) but it does leave me asking questions about what exactly these filmic echoes mean.

In the age of remakes, reimaginings and other requels, Enter the Void stands out as a wonderful, unique exception. A first person film that is actually shot “first-soul” for the bulk of its runtime, you say?

Noe’s inclusion of such obvious parallels to 2001, a seminal film text, are less sophomoric “homage” than they are the result of fully mature “remixing” of classical elements. In short: Enter the Void is NOT a flashy and morally-bankrupt remake akin to LaBute’s The Wicker Man, but is closer in execution to the way Shakespeare borrowed, condensed, and sensationalized many different sources to write his plays.

I know, Kubrick’s film is about a future astronaut’s metaphysical sojourn and Enter the Void is about a dead drug dealer’s journey through his highly-stylized, intensely sexualized, and uber-cinematrick-laden afterlife. Both films carry very different log-lines, but intersect in some amazingly provocative ways, take my word for it and seek out the film if you have not already.

Like any modern day movie geek, I worship at the alter of Darren Aronofsky. The mustachioed virtuoso has yet to strike out in my book. From his esoteric flops like The Fountain to his more straightforward award-bait like The Wrestler, I love (or at least respect) it all. The filmmaker that made himself known with Pi and Requiem for a Dream has sought a middle ground with his latest effort, Black Swan. The movie is accessible enough to fit into the genre of “commercial thriller” but carries enough bizarre flourishes to placate the arthouse crowd (I’m one of the few ‘horror folk’ that rejects the idea of claiming Black Swan as one of our own. I don’t deny its horrific tendencies but I do feel the need to note that it has more in common with the traditional Hollywood thriller than it does with Argento, De Palma, et al.). Aside from plot, structure and visual ques, Black Swan borrows entire shots from The Red Shoes (1948). Sure, Pressburger and Powell’s visually groundbreaking 1940’s musical didn’t have any lesbian sex or a scene of maternally interrupted masturbation, but that stuff is just window dressing anyway. At their core both films are about the high cost of perfection in the pressure-filled world of the Ballet.

What we have here in both films is a remix in ever sense of the word, with the exception of the ubiquitous deep0voice found in contemporary music that shouts the word “Remix!” at every spare moment. The films stand on their own (and are often much more extreme than their predecessors), but offer that little extra something to the viewer that knows his/her history.

What does all this mean? Well, if the 90’s were the dawn of [annoying] self-referentialism and the 2000’s were the age of “homage” and pastiche, then maybe the 2k10’s are going to be the era where filmmakers learn to both embrace and depart from the films that built the canon they love and respect. A geek can dream, can’t he?

Paracinema is my happening and it freaks me out!

Between graduate school, writing the great American novel, and keeping myself sane & healthy (food, shelter, all that jazz) I’ve neglected my blogging. But good news: I will return in full force some day soon. Until then, feast your eyes on the beautiful cover above.

My essay/article/manifesto “Melodrama in Fast Motion: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls As Not Just Strange but Scathing” will appear in Issue 10 of Paracinema Magazine. You can preorder it here.

Paracinema is easily the most intelligent horror/exploitation/b-movie magazine on the market (it’s actually more of a film journal, as they cut out all the crap: “No movie reviews, no music reviews, no toy or action figure news, no book reviews, no filler”) and I am thrilled and honored to be a contributor.

For those living in the cooler areas of the country it will also be available in finer independent retailers but I wouldn’t delay if I were you: grab your copy online.

Devil Hunting for Fun and Profit

It’s been really dead around here, believe me I know.

Luckily, I do have a new guest blog entry up as part of Severin Film’s “Forgotten Severin Classics” series. It’s a deep philosophical feminist reading of…a Jess Franco cannibal film (I’m dead serious).

I’m very proud of it and I’d love it if you’d take a look. Intimate knowledge of the film’s not required. Even though I spoil a bunch of stuff, it won’t diminish the crazy, sleazy enjoyment if you wanted to go ahead and grab the DVD when you’re done reading. Severin is a great company, support them.

The article can be found right here.