Thursday, April 30, 2015

Horrors Unknown!

Horrors Unknown (1971) edited by Sam Moskowitz, containing the following stories: The Challenge from Beyond (1935) by H. P. Lovecraft, C. L. Moore, A. Merritt, Robert E. Howard, and Frank Belknap Long; The Flying Lion (1919) by Edison Marshall; Grettir at Thorhall-stead (1903) by Frank Norris; Werewoman (1938) by C. L. Moore; From Hand to Mouth (1858) by Fitz-James O'Brien; Body and Soul (1928) by Seabury Quinn; Unseen-Unfeared (1919) by Francis Stevens; The Pendulum (1939) by Ray Bradbury; Pendulum (1941) by Ray Bradbury and Henry Hasse; The Devil of the Picuris (1921) by Edwin L. Sabin; and The Pool of the Stone God (1923) by A. Merritt (as by W. Fenimore).

Sam Moskowitz assembles a dandy 1971 anthology of stories by major horror and fantasy authors that had not been previously anthologized  and puts it together with copious and useful biographical and bibliographical notes.

The genre gem here (at least for me) is "The Challenge from Beyond," a multiple-author story from the 1930's in which each writer wrote a couple of thousand words and then passed it on to the next writer. And what a group of writers -- H. P. Lovecraft, C. L. Moore, A. Merritt, Robert E. Howard, and Frank Belknap Long drive this car all over the road, off the road, and upside-down, in their own distinctive stylistic and thematic voices. It's certainly not a great story, but it is a hoot -- especially when Robert E. Howard (Conan) goes off on an almost stereotypical Robert E. Howard tangent in his section, leaving Long to figure out how to put everything back together again to end the story.

The rest of the collection has its joys too, especially to someone steeped in the genres and writers of fantasy and horror. Ray Bradbury's first published story and the revision of that same story he did with Henry Hasse isn't particularly good, but it's a great window into the author's brain in its earliest stages. The entries from Marshall, Merrit, Norris, and Sabin are all fascinating rarities.

C.L. Moore's solo entry, "Werewoman," is a dream-like, uncharacteristic entry in her pulp-space-hero Northwest Smith's adventures. The weird night-journey of "Unseen - Unfeared' by Francis Stevens has gone on to be anthologized numerous times since 1971 for its strange mix of science and the supernatural. And "Hand to Mouth" by the major and short-lived mid-19th-century fantasist Fitz-James O'Brien ("What Was It?", "The Diamond Lens") seems like a novella written 50 years too early. It, too, is a night-journey of dreams and nightmares, almost surreal or even dadaist in its sensibilities. In all, highly recommended.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Unspeakable Cults

Shudder Again (1993): edited by Michele Slung, containing the following stories:

Aphra (1993) by Nancy A. Collins
Eye of the Lynx (1983) by Thomas Ligotti
Heavy-Set (1964) by Ray Bradbury
Mr. Wrong (1975) by Elizabeth Jane Howard
The Runaway Lovers (1967) by Ray Russell
The First Time (1993) by David Kuehls
The Ceremony (1897) by Arthur Machen
The Nature of the Evidence (1923) by May Sinclair
The Face of Helene Bournouw (1960) by Harlan Ellison
A Host of Furious Fancies (1980) by J. G. Ballard
When the Red Storm Comes: Or, The History of a Young Lady's Awakening to Her Nature (1993) by Sarah Smith
Ravissante (1968) by Robert Aickman
A Birthday (1987) by Lisa Tuttle
The Crooked Man (1955) by Charles Beaumont
On the Lake of Last Wishes (1993) by Claudia O'Keefe
Again (1981) by Ramsey Campbell
Kin to Love (1937) by T. H. White
Same Time, Same Place (1963) by Mervyn Peake
The Model (1975) by Robert Bloch
Silver Circus (1927) by A. E. Coppard
Honeymoon (1931) by Clement Wood
The Parasite (1894) by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Solid, enjoyable mix of original and reprinted short fiction in a sequel to Michele Slung's earlier anthology entitled I Shudder At Your Touch. The anthologies focus on horror stories with some element of sexual or romantic horror. The sexual elements tend to be subtle and understated in most of the stories, at least when it comes to graphic sex scenes. That doesn't mean that the stories can't be disturbing.

Among the reprints, we get both supernatural and non-supernatural horror, along with one mostly non-horrific ghost story, "The Nature of the Evidence" by May Sinclair. Slung does a really nice job finding suitable but under-reprinted stories for the anthology. She also supplies lengthy introductions that contextualize the stories without giving away plot points.

One of the highlights is Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Parasite," written by the creator of Sherlock Holmes before he'd become a public believer in the paranormal. It trades gratifyingly on the Holmesian -- its narrator is a solid rationalist forced to believe in psychic phenomena by being mentally attacked by the human 'parasite' of the title. Like much good horror, the story operates on parallel tracks of the figurative and the literal. Our narrator is under psychic attack, but he's also a stand-in for anyone who has in some way lost control of his own mind, through no fault of his own. 

The stories original to this volume are a bit more uneven. David Kuehls' "The First Time" is an interesting case. Its horrific yet jokey punchline requires an elaborate science-fictional set-up. And the content of that punchline is disturbing enough that the whole story seems too slight for the horror it ends with, an EC shock-short that turns something truly malign into a cause for hilarity. On the other hand, Nancy Collins' "Aphra," in which a man falls into a very physical relationship with a human skeleton he buys at a yard sale, manages to strike the right tone of obsession and Poe-esque necrophiliac lunacy.

In all, this is a pretty good anthology. Readers looking for a weird wankbook will be disappointed, though. I hope. Recommended.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Bathos in the North

The Dawning by Hugh B. Cave (2000): Born in 1910, Hugh Cave started his writing career around 1930. He worked in and out of genre, notably horror, for years before moving on to the slicks and to writing various books both fiction and non-fiction, including well-regarded non-fiction works based on his experiences in Haiti. He returned to horror and fantasy relatively late in life, in the 1970's, and ended up collecting a handful of lifetime achievement awards from various genre organizations.

I note all that because it seems a bit churlish to point out that The Dawning really isn't a very good novel. Published when Cave was 90, it's amazing that he was writing anything by then. 

One problem is that the novel is misidentified as horror by its publisher, the late and unlamented Dorchester Publishing. It has a few scenes of horror, but so too does James Joyce's The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. It's really a tale of survival in a world teetering on the brink of environmental apocalypse. You know, just like James Joyce's The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

But boy, do things take their own sweet time. Most of the characters are sympathetically drawn, though often in a sickly sweet, sentimental way. There's a cute, overly intelligent dog. There's a lot of canoeing. There are some wise Native Canadians. There's a monster, or perhaps several monsters. 

One of those monsters is a skunk the size of a bear. It's really hard to suspend disbelief when dealing with a homicidal skunk the size of a bear. It just is. The house-sized, three-eyed frog doesn't help either.

Cave sends a disparate group of Americans, led by a wise old professor who turns out to be about 45, into the wilds of Northern Ontario to escape the breakdown of civilization. One of those recreational drugs that makes people homicidal but seems to have no other effects -- a type of drug seen only in fiction -- has helped accelerate societal breakdown. 

Early on, the group relies on the wilderness skills of an outdoorsman who is also a cruel lout, a spousal abuser, and a rapist. You can pretty much guess who the human antagonist of the novel will be on about page 20, when this character is first introduced. Don't wait around for any subtleties of character for this guy. You're not getting any.

Eventually, something starts stalking them. Well, occasionally stalking them. As it kills the least developed characters first, it clearly possesses a certain narrative sense. Eventually the novel ends. I skimmed a lot of pages. Cave's professionalism carries the novel about as far as polished, professional prose can carry a thing. 

The Dawning isn't badly written in a technical sense. It is stereotypical in much of its characterization and occasionally mawkish in its sometimes sunny, sometimes weepy sentimentality. The dog makes friends with a lovable doe. The dog, a miniature Greyhound, has been named Rambi by its owner because it's like a little doggy Bambi. There's 300 pages more where that stuff came from. Not recommended.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

William Castle and Europa Report

Europa Report: written by Philip Gelatt; directed by Sebastian Cordero; starring Daniel Wu (William Xu), Sharlto Copley (Jame Corrigan), Christian Camargo (Daniel Luxembourg), Karolina Wydra (Katya Petrovna), Michael Nyqvist (Andrei Blok), Anamaria Marinca (Rosa Dasque), and Embeth Davidtz (Dr. Unger) (2013): Found-footage horror movie, or at least marketed as such. It's really a found-footage science-fiction movie about a privately financed mission to Europa, that moon of Jupiter that may have an ocean of water (and thus perhaps life) hidden under an icy crust. Despite its low budget, there are some nice visuals and tense moments. Horrible things happen to people, but they're mainly a product of bad luck. Though how anything is getting through several miles of ice to the surface of Europa is a question best left unasked. Lightly recommended.

Spine Tingler! The William Castle Story: directed by Jeffrey Schwarz; featuring comments by Terry Castle, Donald F. Glut, John Landis, John Waters, Stuart Gordon, Joe Dante, Leonard Maltin, Marcel Marceau, and others (2007): As someone who hasn't watched a lot of William Castle's gimmicky horror movies, I still found this genial documentary to be enjoyable. It's an interesting look at the sort of showman who simply can't exist in today's movie landscape, about how and why he came up with gimmicks, and how those gimmicks made his low-budget thrillers wildly popular. Also, the clips of Vincent Price from The Tingler are priceless. So, too, Castle's late-career attempt at a serious art-house film, Shanks, which starred mime Marcel Marceau. Stories of Joan Crawford's behaviour on the set of Strait-jacket also fascinate. Recommended.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

When We Were RAW

RAW Volume 2, Issue 1 (1989): edited by Francoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman, containing comics by Art Spiegelman, Richard McGuire, Charles Burns, Justin Green, Mark Beyer, Kim Deitch, Basil Wolverton, and others.

Penguin Books seems to have published so many copies of the three issues of RAW Volume 2 that they're still available at reasonable prices more than a quarter of a century after their release. And they're well worth having, especially if you yearn to read comics that involve neither funny animals nor super-heroes.

Created and co-edited by Art Spiegelman and his partner Francoise Mouly, RAW started life in the early 1980's as a tabloid-sized alternate comix anthology. Serialized therein were the first six chapters of Spiegelman's Maus, an astonishing and towering piece of comix work that eventually got book publication in 1986, leading to great sales and awards. The commercial and critical success of Maus seems to have fueled the re-birth of RAW as a glossy trade paperback in 1989, sold primarily in bookstores and not comics shops.

RAW is steadfastly avant-garde in many of its selections, though that doesn't mean an abandonment of plot or characterization for many of the creators within. In this smart, engaging issue, stand-outs include a new chapter of Maus (the remaining chapters would be collected into Maus II in 1991, though most new editions of Spiegelman's great work now include all the chapters of the story).

Richard McGuire's "Here" seems in many ways to be the most influential piece collected, um, here. It plays with time in a manner specific and peculiar to the comic format, and has garnered praise from a number of cartoonists (including Chris Ware) who claim its influence changed their cartooning. 

On the lighter side, RAW reprints a decades-old "Powerhouse Pepper" story by Basil Wolverton, a terrific comics artist and writer of the 1940's and 1950's and an engagingly, anomalously oddball talent for his time. Kim Deitch's "Karla in Kommieland" also delights with its weird take on the Red Scare.

On the weird horror end of things, Mark Beyer's "The Glass Thief" is crudely and disturbingly drawn and written. It's as if Grandma Moses illustrated a comic by Thomas Ligotti. An entry from the terrific Charles Burns, "Teen Plague," offers a grotesque tale of body horror and mental disturbance, all drawn by Burns in his just-slightly-off-'realistic' mode of cartooning.

Other stories aren't quite as memorable, but the overall effect is hard to critique, as even the experiments I found unsuccessful still have the capacity to disturb and to challenge one's normative ideas of comic narration and subject. In all, highly recommended.

RAW Volume 2, Issue 2 (1990): edited by Francoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman, containing comics by Art Spiegelman, Charles Burns, Justin Green, Mark Beyer, Kim Deitch, Boody Rogers, Lynda Barry, Jacques Tardi, Winsor McKay, Henry Darger, Chris Ware, and others.

RAW magazine's second Penguin/Pantheon release offers another eclectic mix of comix, art, and the occasional article. The show-stopper is a piece on Henry Darger, a Chicago janitor who wrote an absolutely massive piece of illustrated fantasy generally referred to as "The Child Slave Rebellion." 

His work wasn't made public until his landlord cleaned out his room after his death in the early 1970's. Among other things, a documentary on Sarger called In the Realms of the Unreal resulted. Art and story are both surpassingly, naively weird and startling.

Other stand-outs in this issue include another chapter of Art Spiegelman's Maus, another disturbingly weird offering from writer-artist Mark Beyer, an early piece from an up-and-coming Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan, Acme Novelty Library), and a beautifully drawn bit of Kafkaesque horror from Jacques Tardi. 

A marvelous bit of personal history from Lynda Barry and a weird reprint of an incredibly odd 'mainstream' 1949 comic-book story from Boody Rogers also delight and confound. Highly recommended.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Exorcising the Future

Looking for Jake and Other Stories (2005) by China Mieville, containing the following stories:

"Foundation" (2003); "The Ball Room" (2005); "Reports of Certain Events in London" (2004); "Familiar" (2002); "Entry Taken from a Medical Encyclopedia" (2005); "Details" (2002); "Go Between" (2005); "Different Skies" (1999); "An End to Hunger" (2000); "'Tis the Season" (2004); "Jack" (2005); "On the Way to the Front" (2005); and "The Tain" (2002).

The lessons we're supposed to learn from many of these stories are so up-front, so undigested into narrative form, that Mieville sometimes seems to be earnestly auditioning for a socialist Twilight Zone TV series. "The Monsters are Due in Buckingham Palace."

Mieville is a fine writer. At novel length, the message becomes part of the narrative, for the most part, and effectively so, at least in the four novels I've read. So, too, the post-modernist tic of foregrounding the artificiality of the story throughout the telling of that story, which can be an annoyance in the longer works, but a minor one. 

Of the stories here, though, Mieville abandons both overt message and foregrounded artificiality only rarely. "Details," his much-reprinted story from an H.P. Lovecraft-themed anthology, is a brilliant piece of contemporary Cthulhu Mythos-making.  Its settings and characters are grounded in the normative and the mundane; its implications are cosmic and disturbing. I also quite like "The Ball Room," which subtly weaves questions about racial identity and immigration and corporate ethics into a sharp, smart horror story.

Of the other stories, "Jack" works best if you've had some experience with the world of New Corbuzan, that epic-steampunk city of three of Mieville's novels. "The Tain" and "Looking for Jake" are both (intentionally) attenuated, elliptical tales of existential invasion by mysterious forces from Outside. London falls, and not the one in Ontario, Canada.  

The rest are either funny and slight, grim and slight, or bleakly funny and slight. They almost remind me more of some of the more didactic short fiction of frequent Twilight Zone contributor Charles Beaumont than anyone else -- Beaumont of "The Howling Man," punching you in the face with allegory, inexplicably made more subtle for Serling's TV version of the story. Uneven but recommended.

The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov (1952): Sometimes one forgets how much social critique there was in the works of quintessentially American, quintessentially Golden-Age-of-Science-Fiction writers such as Isaac Asimov. Asimov never attempted anything resembling complex literary style and his characterizations could often be rudimentary. It really didn't matter unless one or both of those things are deal-breakers for a reader: the ideas were the thing, sometimes developed, sometimes simply spun off on the way to another idea.

The Caves of Steel is a remarkably seminal version of what we'd now call a genre mash-up -- the mystery novel and the science-fiction novel. On a crowded and somewhat dystopian Earth of about 1100 years into the future, someone murders a roboticist visiting Earth from one of the long-self-emancipated  colony worlds. 

This murder is bad for a number of reasons, not least of which being that the colony worlds are far, far, far more technologically and militarily advanced than Earth. Many -- both Terran and sympathetic Spacer -- fear retaliatory invasion, even though 'Spacers' as they're called by Terrans really hate spending time on Earth or among Earth humans, whom they seem to regard as being diseased and unclean.

So the New York City police commissioner puts Elijah 'Lije' Bailey, C-5 level detective in the New York City Police Department (though New York City now occupies pretty much all of New York State and New Jersey as well) on the case. But he'll have to work with a Spacer detective. That detective is R. Daneel Olivaw. The 'R.' stands for 'Robot.' 

Relatively primitive robots are being forced into the Earth work-force by the Spacers through pressure on the Earth's government, ostensibly to make the lives of Terrans better. Earth people tend to hate robots because they take people's jobs. But the Spacers have also refined robots over the centuries, relying on them as important parts of their relatively unpopulated worlds, making them in a wide variety of shapes and sizes -- including Olivaw's type, which can pass for human unless subjected to quite a  bit of specialized scrutiny.

The commissioner trusts Bailey's tact and his detective skills. Bailey may dislike both Spacers and robots, but he's got an open mind -- for a Terran. So off go Bailey and Olivaw, to solve a crime with no apparent physical evidence. The mystery is pretty solid. Bailey makes some mistakes along the way, and we're treated to more than one pretty good explanation of what turns out to be faulty reasoning. 

Was Asimov 'right' in his predictions? Well, probably not -- the assumptions made for why robots cannot kill human beings seem pretty ludicrous in the light of the last 60 years of computer evolution. Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics are an integral part of his long-lived robotic universe (by the time The Caves of Steel came out in 1953, Asimov had been writing about his Three Laws robots for more than a decade, and he'd keep writing about them until his death in 1992). They don't seem plausible now, at least in the sense that robots in Asimov's universe simply can't be programmed without the laws for reasons explained in the novel.

Asimov's hive-like, overpopulated Earth does seem a lot more plausible, especially after another 1100 years of resource usage. Asimov's future Earth lives on the constant edge of complete collapse due to resource exhaustion and an increasingly over-strained infrastructure. Earth has also undergone a sort of acculturated agoraphobia: human beings are afraid to go outside of the domed-in cities. So afraid that to Bailey, it seems reasonable to exclude the idea that a person could have walked across open land as part of the murder plot. 

It's a lot of fun to see Asimov explore the sorts of social conventions that might arise after hundreds of years living in a quasi-communal mega-city. The gender conventions of public washroom behavior become important in a world where 95% of all people only have access to public washrooms (or 'Personals' as they're called in the novel). So, too, does importance attach to some of the games played by teenagers on the massive moving sidewalks that move people around New York (and every other mega-city). Bailey's memories sketch in the peculiar, over-populated homogeneity of the future Earth throughout the novel: one such memory involves a trip to the New York City zoo to see sparrows, cats, and dogs. 

This Earth has been emptied out of almost everything that doesn't serve a purpose. The population's diet consists to a great extent of products made from a multitude of varieties of genetically engineered yeast. Petroleum has been exhausted. Uranium and other fissionable materials may soon be exhausted, as will coal. The powers that be discuss various forms of solar power, but no one has the will to build them. No one has the will to walk outside, much less the will to colonize new worlds or create and deploy new technologies.

There's a certain amount of serious thinking going on for a mystery novel -- about how civilizations fall, and about how their fall can be prevented. Both Earth and Spacer society need radical revision to survive. It's the robots that may be the key -- rational, cool-minded, and incapable of causing harm to humans. And Bailey and Olivaw would have more crime-solving to do. Highly recommended.

Surreal and Hyper-real

The Exterminating Angel (El angel exterminador): written and directed by Luis Bunuel; starring Silvia Pinal (Leticia), Enrique Rambal (Edmundo), Cladio Brook (Julio), Jose Baviera (Leandro), Lucy Gallardo (Lucia), Cesar del Campo (The Colonel), and Augusto Benedico (The Doctor) (1962 - Spanish/Mexican): Luis Bunuel's surreal horror film may be a commentary on fascist Spain, phrased in ways that work both viscerally and metaphorically. It works more generally as a surreal and increasingly nightmarish piece of social commentary.

A dinner party of rich socialites gathers at a mansion. All but one of the servants flee. And then for reasons no one can understand, no one can leave the living room. For weeks or perhaps months. And no one can enter the house, though no one really knows why.

The film follows the events in the living room, with a few scenes outside as crowds wax and wane outside the house. There are lambs in the house, and a bear. It's that kind of party. Food runs out. The prisoners search for water-pipes to tap. People start dying. People start looking for scapegoats. The enigmatic paintings on the closet doors look on. A disembodied hand scuttles around the floor. Or does it?

Bunuel would later note that he wished he could have gone farther into violence and grue, adding at least cannibalism to the mix. The movie feels like a nightmare possessed of a nonetheless meticulous logic, a logic expanded upon as the film draws to a close, and expanded again at the very end. Highly recommended.

Throne of Blood: adapted from William Shakespeare's Macbeth by Hideo Oguni, Shinobu Hashimoto, Ryuzo Kikushima, and Akira Kurosawa; directed by Akira Kurosawa; starring Toshiro Mifune (Taketoki Washizu) and Isuzu Yamada (Lady Washizu) (1957): Kurosawa pretty much built an entire castle on the slopes of Mt. Fuji for his homage to Macbeth. And it's quite a castle. Spider's Web Castle, named for the labyrinthine paths of the forest surrounding it, is impregnable. 

Two of an emperor's most trusted lords put down a rebellion. But on the way through the forest, they encounter a spirit whose prophecies lead Toshiro Mifune's Lord Washizu to murder his emperor and seize the throne for himself, albeit only after being argued into doing so by his increasingly loopy wife. Hey, this is based on Macbeth.

Kurosawa's film revels in smoke and fog and horror suggested for the most part rather than seen. Indeed, it's probably the adaptation of Macbeth that most plays the play as a horror piece. The spirit is creepy and freaky and a lot worse than any three witches I've ever seen. 

Mifune is, as always, spectacular, as is Isuzu Yamada in the Lady Macbeth role. Yamada's chill calculation fractures at the end. Mifune, though, fractures upon meeting the spirit and never stops falling apart until the end of the film -- unlike Shakespeare's Macbeth, Lord Washizu has no moment of clarity at the end. He doesn't even get hand-to-hand combat.

Kurosawa saves his creepiest spectacle for the end, as the trees of Spider's Web Woods march on the castle in the fulfilment of Lord Washizu's destiny. Smoke billows everywhere. Soldiers flee. The trees advance through the smoke. It's beautiful film-making. One sometimes wonders how Kurosawa got certain shots, given the technology of the time -- in certain cases, forced perspective and clever matte-work  do astonishing things. Highly recommended.

The Hustler: adapted from the novel by Walter Tevis by Sidney Carroll and Robert Rossen; directed by Robert Rossen; starring Paul Newman (Eddie Felson), Piper Laurie (Sarah Packard), George C. Scott (Bert Gordon), and Jackie Gleason (Minnesota Fats) (1961): Paul Newman was 36 when The Hustler came out. It didn't necessarily make him a star, but it certainly announced him as being a great American actor. His pool hustler, Eddie Felson, is a nuanced portrayal of desperation and loss and rootlessness. 

Robert Rossen directed the film in an almost neo-Realist manner, at least for American cinema at the time. The dingy pool halls and bus stations and bars look lived-in (for the most part, they are -- there are a few sets, but much of the filming was location filming); the acting is, for the most part, unmelodramatic and recognizably 'modern.' You can see why Martin Scorsese wanted to direct the 1985 sequel, The Colour of Money: Rossen's streets are certainly mean, and George C. Scott's persuasive, treacherous mobster wouldn't be out of place in Goodfellas.

Newman announces his maturity as an actor by playing pool hustler 'Fast' Eddie Felson without accents or histrionics. He's a damaged soul with one great ability, but that ability puts him in situations where he can only be damaged more. He's trapped on the fringes of the underworld if he wants to ply his trade: there is no professional pool player's tour in 1961.

The Hustler doesn't supply the plot beats and schematicism one expects of modern Hollywood dramas. After a rare-for-the-time pre-credits sequence showing us how Felson and his partner hustle people in small-time pool scams, we basically open with an almost endless series of pool games between Felson and New York City's greatest pool player, Minnesota Fats. In the immortal words of somebody, character is revealed by a character's actions.

The bulk of the rest of the film brings Piper Laurie's wounded, enigmatic Sarah into play as a love interest for a devastated Felson. Good things happen. Bad things happen. And eventually the film will have to force Eddie to evaluate whether financial success is, as George C. Scott's mobster tells him, the only thing that defines winners and losers. 

Piper Laurie is terrific as Sarah, who's a lot deeper than she first appears, though perhaps less mysterious than she says. Scott is also terrific, already working that sweaty shoutiness. Gleason underplays Fats throughout -- indeed, he barely speaks at all, but he nonetheless got a Supporting Oscar nomination for this film. Highly recommended.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Deliver Us From Evil (2014)

Deliver Us from Evil: 'inspired' and adapted from the book by Ralph Sarchie and Lisa Collier Cool by Scott Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman; directed by Scott Derrickson; starring Eric Bana (Sergeant Sarchie), Edgar Ramirez (Father Mendoza), Olivia Munn (Jen Sarchie), and Joel McHale (Detective Butler) (2014): Real-life person-type Ralph Sarchie is indeed a real former NYPD cop turned paranormal investigator. He comes from the school of the Warrens (remember the 'real' investigators in The Conjuring?), which means that charitably speaking, I don't believe a word of his paranormal adventures.

However, as a quick perusal of the IMDB page for this movie reveals, this film, 'inspired by actual case files,' is pretty much entirely fictional anyway. The case that Sarchie, still a cop, and Father Mendoza find themselves investigating has been invented whole-cloth by the film-makers so as to give Sarchie an exciting origin story. I'm assuming they were hoping for a Conjuring-level hit and a subsequent series of Sarchie-centric horror movies. No such luck. I hope.

As casting decisions go, this is a comedy of errors. Eric Bana struggles mightily to play a New York cop, Olivia Munn seems to have wandered in from another movie, Edgar Martinez lacks all plausibility as a sexy, "undercover" (the character's word, not mine) Roman Catholic priest, and Joel McHale plays Joel McHale playing a wise-cracking cop in what may be a dream sequence from Community. Many major concepts, including the Iraqi origin of the demons, are simply lifted from The Exorcist.

Most hilariously, the film-makers apparently are a-scared of The Doors. Doors music and lyrics show up repeatedly as elements in the various horrors being perpetrated by the demons. Is Satan a Doors fan? Is he sitting on the bus sucking on a humbug? I have no idea. This is dreadful, stupid horror. Not recommended.