Posts Tagged ‘zombies

26
Feb
14

Blake Has Written Books Part 3: Opening Night of the Dead

Opening Night of the DeadMy third novel, Opening Night of the Dead, is the second book in the world of the Curtain, although you don’t need to have read the previous book, The Beginner, in order to enjoy it. It’s almost Halloween, and at the Climax Studios campus in Hollywood, work is being done on a new zombie movie. On the other side of the property, though, at the Climax Studios Theme Park, a real zombie has stumbled into the costumed partygoers. A pair of former cops (as “former” as you can get) are sent to try to quell the violence, joining their skills with a studio stuntman and makeup artist, plus a tabloid reporter that has strayed on to the lot. In this humorous take on horror movies, it’s these five people who stand between the world and a zombie apocalypse.

This book is a bit more lighthearted than The Beginner, and in fact, establishes the tone I really want for the Curtain universe. It’s also where the term “Curtain” comes from. If you’re into weird takes on zombies, this is the Petit book for you.

And don’t forget, gang, please, tweet and share and reblog this post, and if you’ve already read the book, why not throw up a review at any of the above websites or at Goodreads.com?

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30
Oct
12

Lunatics and Laughter Day 19: Zombieland (2009)

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Writers: Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick

Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Bill Murray

Plot: Zombies have taken over the world, and only a few isolated survivors remain. A young man from Columbus, Ohio (Jesse Eisenberg) has lasted longer than anyone he knows thanks to a carefully constructed set of rules, assembled mainly through trial and error. Little things make a difference in Zombieland: cardio, “double tapping” (always use a second bullet to make sure the zombie is dead), and of course, fastening your seatbelt. He’s a nervous sort, afraid of clowns, and mostly a loner. “Columbus” is making the long journey home from Texas in the hopes that his parents may still be alive. He is picked up by a cowboy hat-wearing fella in an SUV who calls himself Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson). In order not to get attached, Tallahassee insists on using their hometowns as identifiers, rather than bothering with real names. Tallahassee’s passion for killing zombies is matched only by his craving to find a Twinkie, and when they encounter a supermarket, Tallahassee insists on stopping to check it out. Instead, they find a young woman who identifies herself as Wichita (Emma Stone). Her younger sister, Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) has been bitten, and they’re begging for help – they need a gun to kill her. Tallahassee is about to pull the trigger, but Wichita asks to do it herself. Taking the gun, she turns on the men, stealing their car, ammunition, and weapons; it was all a scam.

The girls head west, planning to get to a supposed safe zone called Pacific Playland. Tallahassee, meanwhile, finds a Hummer in good condition, loaded with big guns. They set out to find the girls, and although Columbus cautions Tallahassee not to let his anger take him, Tallahassee says he’s got nothing but the little pleasures since he lost his puppy, Buck. They find the SUV on the side of the road, hood open, abandoned. While Tallahassee checks it out, Little Rock hijacks Columbus in the Hummer. The girls rob them, again, but this time take them on the road. Wichita drops the sad news that Columbus, Ohio, burned to the ground during the outbreak. She offers to drop Columbus off so he can find a new path, but he decides to stay with her.

Eventually, they make it to California, where Tallahassee suggests finding and resting in the home of his favorite celebrity: Bill Murray, an unknown quantity to the 12-year-old Little Rock. They split up to search the place for zombies, and Columbus decides to culture Little Rock by showing her Ghostbusters in Murray’s own movie theater. Tallahassee and Wichita, elsewhere, make enough noise to summon a zombie – Murray himself. Or so it seems. Murray, still alive, had himself made up in zombie makeup as a defense. He begins showing his guests a good time, reenacting scenes from his movies, and they convince him to prank the jittery Columbus by pretending to be a zombie again. The joke goes too far and Columbus shoots Bill Murray in the chest. As he dies, Murray identifies his one regret: Garfield.

As they decompress and remember the things they miss from the Pre-Zombieland world, Columbus realizes the “Buck” Tallahassee has been mourning isn’t really his dog, like he said, but his son. He has a good cry, finally letting the emotion out. Later, Wichita brings Columbus a bottle of wine. As they trade life stories, Wichita asks him to dance, and he’s about to kiss her when Tallahassee interrupts, asking for help in moving the couch to build a fort.

In the morning, the girls take the Hummer and leave the guys behind, Wichita upset that she almost broke her cardinal rule: the sisters trust no one but each other. They drive the last few miles to the Pacific Playland amusement park. Instead of the zombie-free paradise they were promised, when Wichita turns the power back on the lights and sounds draw all the undead for miles. They are trapped at the top of a ride, surrounded. At Murray’s house, Columbus fails to persuade Tallahassee to help him find the girls and starts to set out on his own. When he drives a motorcycle into a hedge, Columbus takes pity on him, and they take one of Murray’s cars to Pacific Playland. Tallahassee lures the zombies away from the ride so he can blow them away. He locks himself in a carnival booth, shooting through the bars and ceiling, killing all the zombies he can. Columbus, meanwhile, makes it to the girls just in time: there’s a zombie climbing the ladder towards them and they’re out of ammo. But before he can charge to the rescue he encounters his greatest fear: a zombie clown. Taking a page from Tallahasse, he beats the clown to hell and saves the girls. Wichita gives him a special prize – her real name – and he kisses her. As they leave, Little Rock tosses Tallahassee a Twinkie from the snack bar, and the odd little family sets out on the road again.

Thoughts: Writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick originally conceived Zombieland as a TV series, and looking at the movie through that prism, it’s actually pretty obvious. It plays much like a TV pilot, introducing a cast of characters and a situation through which it would be easy to tell a lot of stories over an extended period of time. It also explains why, unlike most zombie movies, the entire principal cast survives the film. There are a lot of short holdovers from that TV script as well – the rules for surviving Zombieland were intended as part of the TV framing sequence, and the “Zombie Kill of the Week” was going to literally be a “kill of the week.” It also suggests that there may have been intended answers to some of the assorted questions the story leaves open – why sisters Wichita and Little Rock have different home towns, for example, or perhaps even more tellingly, why on Earth the electricity is still on everywhere we go. Seriously, throughout the film we see a total of five living people post-outbreak, how is it that the only place with no energy is the amusement park, and all it takes to get that going again is Wichita hitting a few switches?

Those minor holes aside, the movie is still intensely enjoyable. The story comes across as a clear Type A horror movie, but that doesn’t diminish the comedy at all. We get a group of very funny, very relatable characters in this movie, each of whom displays more depth and potential than their archetypes would suggest. Columbus is your standard awkward nerd, and the others tease him as such, but at the same time the very fact that he’s survived so long on his own reveals the sort of steel he really has. Tallahassee’s tenderness is hidden for much of the movie, but obvious when he decides to open up about his son, and integral in his decision to join Columbus on the rescue mission. The girls are tough and fight dirty, but at the core is a mutual desire to protect each other. We don’t know why, exactly, they’re so damaged, but that damage is presented in a believable way that makes their behavior easy to understand. The four of them fit together very naturally and very organically, in a way that leaves open plenty of room for the comedy.

I was reluctant to talk about the Bill Murray sequence in my recap, because not only is it a delicious, hysterical segment of the film, but it was such a surprise when I saw it that I think it ratcheted my overall enjoyment of the movie as a whole, and I hate to spoil that for anybody else. But then, I suppose anyone who hasn’t seen the movie yet either won’t read this recap or doesn’t care about spoilers, so why skip talking about something so memorable? The thing is, the film was planned in such a way that any of several celebrities could have been plugged into those scenes, depending entirely on who they could get to agree to do it. I don’t know who else was under consideration and I don’t care: Murray was perfect. His pedigree, the chance to listen to him as he performed some of his greatest one-liners, the admission that making Garfield was a terrible mistake… who else could have possibly filled that role in such a perfect fashion?

The finale, not to overstate it, is the greatest thing ever committed to celluloid. Killing zombies is always fun. Doing it while riding roller coasters, marching through a haunted house, or dangling from one of those spinning swing rides? It’s the stuff that dreams are made of. Or at least a bitchin’ video game. In fact, that’s what the last fight actually feels like: we’re watching Tallahassee and Columbus fight their way through the final level, except instead of one boss it’s just more zombies than anybody has ever seen.

The zombies themselves really feel like a secondary element to this film. While it wouldn’t work as well if the apocalypse was caused by vampires or a virus or something of those sorts, the zombies are just stage dressing. In many ways, this movie shares a lot in common with that other zombie TV show that did get made. In The Walking Dead, the zombies are usually relegated to the background – a problem to be dealt with, to be sure, but not the major thrust of the stories. The same is true here. The major difference is that The Walking Dead plays the scenario for drama, while this is a relatively lighthearted comedy. The only truly serious moment, in terms of character, is when we realize that Tallahassee is mourning a dead child instead of a dead puppy, and our hearts break a little… something that is rectified only moments later when he wipes his tears away with a wad of now-useless money.

Like I’ve said for several of our recent films, I hope the suggested sequel to this someday gets made. Sure, Eisenberg and Stone have both become much bigger stars since the film premiered and Breslin is a teenager now, but that doesn’t mean the time lapse couldn’t be worked into the story in an organic way. By design, these are characters that have a lot of life left in them and much more story to tell. I just hope, sooner or later, we get to see it.

Don’t forget, Lunatics and Laughter is the second Reel to Reel movie study. The first, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!

And while the 20 films for the first phase of Lunatics and Laughter have been selected, I’m still taking suggestions for next year’s expanded eBook edition. I’m especially looking for good horror/comedies from before 1980, so if you’ve got any ideas, please share them in the comments section.

26
Oct
12

Lunatics and Laughter Day 15: Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Director: Edgar Wright

Writers: Edgar Wright & Simon Pegg

Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Kate Ashfield, Lucy Davis, Dylan Moran, Penelope Wilton, Bill Nighy, Jessica Stevenson, Peter Serafinowicz

Plot: Retail employee Shaun (Simon Pegg) is having a rough time. His job is a joke, his relationship with his stepfather Philip (Bill Nighy) is strained, and his roommate Pete (Peter Serafinowicz) has had it with Shaun’s best buddy Ed (Nick Frost) sleeping on their couch. If that wasn’t bad enough, a chance encounter with his friend Yvonne (Jessica Stevenson) reminds him that it’s his anniversary and he’s forgotten to book a table at a restaurant. He tries to convince his girlfriend Liz (Kate Ashfield) to join him for a fun-filled evening at their favorite pub, the Winchester, but Liz has wasted one too many night at the bar. She dumps him and he returns home where he has one more spat with an agitated Pete (who was bitten by a bunch of crackheads) before going to bed.

In the morning, a tired Shaun schleps down to the local convenience store and home without ever noticing the few people around him are acting strange – grunting, stumbling, and covered with blood. Returning home, he and Ed finally figure out something is wrong they are attacked. The reports on the news and the ghouls outside their house make the situation clear. Although neither Shaun nor Ed wants to say it, London is overrun with zombies. The friends fight their way clear with vinyl records and a cricket bat, getting past Pete before escaping. Shaun plans to collect his mother and Liz and hide out at the Winchester until the crisis has passed.

His mother, Barbara (Penelope Winton) is nursing Phillip, who has been bitten. Shaun reluctantly loads them into the car then heads to Liz’s flat, where she’s hiding out with her roommate Dianne (Lucy Davis) and Dianne’s boyfriend David (Dylan Moran). Although they are reluctant to go with him, the encroaching undead soon change their minds. As they flee, Phillip succumbs to his bite and they are forced to abandon the car, trapping him inside. They encounter Yvonne, who has gathered her own oddly familiar group of survivors and who is planning to find help. Shaun insists on following through his his own plan. When they reach the Winchester, they find it surrounded by zombies, and struggling actress Dianne gives the rest of the group a crash course in acting undead. Remarkably, the ruse works and they march through the army of zombies unmolested, until Ed’s mobile phone rings and blows their cover. They barely get to cover inside the bar.

In the Winchester, Shaun discovers that his mother has been hiding a bite of her own. He and David begin sniping at each other as Barbara struggles against the disease inside her, but when she finally dies and rises, Shaun puts her down with the rifle hanging over the bar. As they continue to argue, raw emotions are exposed: David is in love with Liz, something Dianne knows fully well, but she has been settling for what little affection he gives her. As they fight, the zombies overwhelm their barricades and pull David outside. Dianne snaps and rushes after him, being consumed as well. The last three break for the basement, but Ed is bitten on the way. Trapped, the three of them contemplate suicide, but before they can do anything, they find a secret hatch. Ed promises to cover Shaun and Liz as they escape. Biddign his best friend farewell, Ed can’t resist sending a fragrant flume of gas his way one more time. Making their way to the surface, Shaun and Liz are met by Yvonne, along with an entire army battalion that has arrived to put the zombies down. Six months later, Liz has moved in with Shaun and the world has adapted, using the zombies for menial labor and cheap entertainment. Shaun goes out to the shed to relax a little while, sitting down next to his best friend. Ed is now a zombie, but that doesn’t mean they two of them can’t continue to enjoy their video games.

Thoughts: I’ve said that Ghostbusters is my favorite horror/comedy and I stand by that, but damned if Shaun of the Dead doesn’t come in a close second. This film is a flawless combination of things that I love: emotionally honest characters, dry British wit, zombies, Bill Nighy… Any one of those elements is worthy of being loved, cherished, and having praise heaped upon them. Putting them together makes for one of the best horror/comedies ever made.

This film came in near the beginning of the current zombie wave, which has actually gone on much longer than I would have expected. It wasn’t the first zombie/comedy hybrid, but it was without a doubt the most effective, and I doubt the later entries into this subgenre (Fido and Zombieland, for example) would have enjoyed their respective success if Wright and Pegg hadn’t come along first and done such a remarkable job with this movie. The zombies themselves are played perfectly straight, a Type-A horror threat. In fact, they could have marched right off the set of a George Romero movie. In truth, if not for the sort of happy ending at the end of the film, one could easily make the meta-argument that it showed the British side of one of the many zombie apocalypses (apocalypsi?) that make him his own films. He himself was enough of a fan of Shaun that he invited Wright and Pegg to make a cameo appearance in Land of the Dead. (They played zombies.)

The zombie stuff works really well, and the comedy is near-flawless. Nick Frost’s Ed ranks up there with one of the great comedic bumblers. He slows down the group, makes poor decisions, and nearly gets them all killed several times. He’s like Gilligan – anybody in their right mind would have left him to die ten minutes after the zombies attacked. But for all his buffoonery, there’s some sort of inexplicable charm that makes you want to keep him around. It’s probably this, more than anything else, that helps him last right up until the very end. Let’s be honest, if Shaun had walked into the shed to reveal Pete or David chained to the wall, it would have just felt creepy. Watching him chide Ed for trying to bite him, though? It’s weirdly sweet.

Pegg himself is successful as the harried everyman, the ordinary guy who is in way over his head and needs to find a way to rise above it all if he’s to have any shot at survival, let alone getting the girl. It’s that status that makes him such a successful protagonist. Virtually everybody has felt like Shaun at one point in their life. It’s just that few of us are lucky enough to have a plague of the undead come along at just the right time to help us snap out of our funk.

Shaun’s character is just the beginning of these very real characters, though. David’s bitterness comes across as very genuine, and Dianne is a terribly sad character that you can wholeheartedly believe in. The moment of Phillip’s death is a remarkable one as well, turning a character that could have been a cartoon wicked stepfather into someone with genuine heart who just didn’t know how to express his feelings until it was too late. Liz is, if you’ll pardon the gender-specific term, the film’s straight man. She’s not particularly funny, but she allows Shaun and Ed to play off her rather well. The core of her relationship with Shaun, though, is one of true love and legitimate concern for their life. You never think poorly of her in the movie, never imagine her to be the sort of bitchy ex-girlfriend that a lot of movies would transform her into in order to make Shaun seem more heroic. I’ve come to realize that the truly great horror/comedies, whether they’re Type A or Type B, can fall into two categories: either they’re remarkably funny or surprisingly tender. Like Bubba Ho-Tep, Shaun of the Dead presents us with excellent characters that we really feel for. Their deaths aren’t just plot points or gags like in Eight Legged Freaks or Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Each major member of this cast has a role, a purpose, a meaning.

Not to say that it’s 100 minutes of zombies wrenching feelings out of you, not at all. The film is full of sharp running gags (Shaun has red on him, Ed is addicted to his phone, etc.) and Yvonne pops up just at the right time to lend some really successful levity just after Phillip’s crushing end. Shaun’s dream sequences about fighting to the Winchester are both really funny and highly relatable – unless you honestly expect me to believe you’ve never imagined your Zombie Apocalypse Contingency Plan beginning with thrilling heroics and ending with tossing back a cold one at your favorite hangout. Yes it has. You liar.

To put it simply, Shaun of the Dead is the perfect package of horror movie monsters, dramatic story beats, and rip-snorting laughter. If anyone tries to call it a parody of zombie movies, I feel the need to correct them right away. This isn’t a parody at all, this is a zombie movie. It just happens to be one where the prospective buffet left out for the undead is made up of some very, very funny people.

Don’t forget, Lunatics and Laughter is the second Reel to Reel movie study. The first, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!

And while the 20 films for the first phase of Lunatics and Laughter have been selected, I’m still taking suggestions for next year’s expanded eBook edition. I’m especially looking for good horror/comedies from before 1980, so if you’ve got any ideas, please share them in the comments section.

21
Oct
12

2 in 1 Showcase Episode 275: The Ultimate Top Ten Movie Monsters

 

With Halloween so close, Blake and Erin discuss the greatest movie monsters of all time. Our picks, your choices, and the number one monster in cinema history wait for you in this week’s episode! In the picks, Erin loves The Walking Dead Compendium Vol. 2 and Blake goes with Locke and Key: Grindhouse and Marvel Zombies Halloween. Don’t forget to vote for this year’s Halloween movie marathon at the Fighting Fitness Fraternity Facebook Page! Contact us with comments, suggestions, or anything else at Showcase@CXPulp.com!

Music provided by Music Alley from Mevio.



Episode 275: Ultimate Top Ten Movie Monsters

12
Oct
12

Lunatics and Laughter Day 1: The Ghost Breakers (1940)

Director: George Marshall

Writers: Walter DeLeon, based on the play The Ghost Breaker by Paul Dickey & Charles W. Goddard

Cast: Bob Hope, Paulette Goddard, Richard Carlson, Paul Lukas, Willie Best, Pedro de Cordoba, Virginia Brissac, Noble Johnson, Anthony Quinn

Plot: On a rainy evening in New York City, Mary Carter (Paulette Goddard) packs to visit her great-great grandfather’s “haunted” island off the coast of Cuba, which she has inherited . Although the Cuban representative Havez (Pedro de Cordoba) tries to dissuade her from visiting, Mary is skeptical of the claims of ghosts on what he calls “Black Island.” Elsewhere in the hotel we meet radio “ghostbreaker” Lawrence Lawrence (Bob Hope), who reveals secrets, uncovers skeletons in the closet, and blows the lid off, as he puts it later, “family ghosts.” Larry is planning to leave for fishing vacation after that evening’s broadcast with his valet, Alex (a somewhat insensitive racial stereotype, by modern standards, played by Willie Best). When Mr. Parada (Paul Lukas) arrives to transfer the castle to Mary, he offers her a princely sum of $50,000 for the land. Before she decides on the deal, she receives a mysterious phone call from a man named Ramon (Anthony Quinn) warning her not to sell. The combination of the call and the offer simply makes her more determined to visit her grandfather’s estate. Left alone, she listens to Larry’s radio broadcast where he dishes on a mob operation.

When Larry returns, there are a series of shootings in the hallways and Larry believes he kills Ramon.  Mary helps him hide as the police search the building, but he winds up in her trunk and is mistakenly sent to her cruise ship. Mary and Alex locate the trunk, but are unable to free Larry before he’s loaded onto the ship. In her room, Mary receives a letter warning her that death awaits her on the island. Alex helps Larry out and shows him a newspaper report about the shooting (remember evening editions? Neither do I) where he points out that Ramon was shot by a different caliber bullet– Larry couldn’t have killed him. Larry realizes someone is trying to intimidate Mary into avoiding the castle. As they discuss the situation on the deck, someone pushes a heavy potted plant over a railing, nearly killing the couple. They flee back to her stateroom, where the strain of the evening starts to show on Mary. When Alex arrives and says they can ride back to New York on a speedboat if they hurry, he refuses to leave, determined to help Mary. Before leaving the ship, Parada warns Larry about the castle, while Mary runs into an old acquaintance, Geoff Montgomery (Richard Carlson) who is skeptical of Parada and tries to warn her from dealing with him. Larry is excited when Parada tells him about a voodoo priestess on the island, one who allegedly has the power to create mindless zombies. (“You mean like Democrats?” Larry quips.)

That evening Geoff begins to romance Mary, who asks him to accompany her to Black Island. He refuses, fearful of the zombies. Mary is shocked when she believes she sees a ghost – Ramon, the murdered man. He introduces himself as Ramon’s twin brother, Francisco Mederos, who angrily demands information about his brother’s death. Larry and Alex, meanwhile, have taken a rowboat out to Black Island, where they encounter “Mother Zombie” (Virginia Brissac) and one of her zombies (Noble Johnson). They enter the house, where they hear noises that indicate someone else is there and find a strange painting that is the perfect image of Mary – her great-great-grandmother Maria. The two split up, and Alex observes a ghostly figure emerging from a trunk. Larry chases but only finds a skeleton. At the shore, Mother Zombie watches as Mary suddenly swims onto the beach carrying a waterproof bag with a dry robe. Inside, Larry and Alex hear Mary calling for them, but believe it’s a trick. She, meanwhile, hears voices telling her to run away before it’s too late – but runs right into the clutches of the Zombie. She flees, observed by the hidden Parada, who himself is captured by an unseen figure. Larry and Alex are attacked by the Zombie, hiding in a suit of armor, but before the creature can deliver a death-blow, they see the image of Maria Sebastian walk down the stairs. As it is distracted, Larry and Alex lock it in a closet and run to Maria – really Mary wearing her great-grandmother’s clothes after her own were ripped fleeing from the zombie. Mary notices the painting of Maria is pointing towards the crypt, and she and Larry investigate. In the crypt, Larry and Mary find Parada stabbed, stuffed in one of the caskets, bleeding to death. As he dies, he directs them to the organ in the crypt. Mary solves the puzzle, using the organ to open a hidden door that leads to an old mine beneath the castle. Francisco and Geoff both appear with guns, and Geoff shoots the gun from Francisco’s hand backing the other three against the wall. Geoff reveals that he was behind the threats and the offer to buy the castle, determined to gain ownership of an enormous vein of silver beneath the island. He’s about to shoot them, but the ceiling above collapses and clobbers him. A puzzled Alex looks down and says, “Boss, did I press the wrong button?”

Thoughts: At the top of his game, Bob Hope was one of the funniest human beings ever placed on the planet. He had a sly, sharp wit that was just this side of being truly subversive, and was just as likely to deliver a merciless zinger as he was to take a shot across his own rather prodigious nose. It’s not surprising, given the immensity of his library, that we start our march through the creepy comedy catalogue with him.

From the beginning, this film demonstrates how far afield certain comedies go. If you strip the movie down to its bare plot, it’s actually pretty dramatic – a reporter Is falsely accused of murder, flees from justice, and winds up in a haunted house. It could very easily be the set-up for a more traditional horror movie. The comedy comes not from anything in the situation or setting, but from the wonderfully funny performances by Hope and Best. Horror/comedies tend fall one way or another – either a dark story with funny characters (let’s call this “Type A” for the sake of discussion) or a pure comedy that plays with the tropes of a horror for its humor(“Type B”). While both sorts of film have strong examples (and we’ll discuss films from both categories before this little experiment is over), I find that the Type A movie is typically much more satisfying. (Virtually any “spoof” movie is in the Type B category, and as so many terrible spoofs have been made since Scary Movie jumpstarted that particular subgenre in 2000, I may be a bit unfairly biased against Type B. But at least I can admit it.)

The story is creepy, and the house is covered with cobwebs and dust, straight out of the pages of Better Haunted Homes and Gardens. The moment when the armored zombie slowly raises its mace over the head of the oblivious Larry is genuinely tense, and you’re afraid for him until Alex saves the day. No matter how tough the situation gets, though, Hope’s one-liners and Best’s witty retorts keep the mood light at all times. The best sequence, when Larry and Alex explore the mansion, is full of stuff like this – a distant sneeze prompts Hope to observe “The ghost has a cold,” for instance, and when the two commit the Scary Movie Cardinal Sin of splitting up, Larry tells Alex that, if he sees a couple of fellows running, let the first one go, because “That’ll be me.” Perhaps the greatest thing is how close to the vest the film plays the notion of the supernatural. These days, anyone trying to make a movie of this nature would feel the need to have Mary plagued by odd noises and startling images in the mirror practically from the beginning. Here, there’s nothing close to a confirmation the ghosts are real until Alex sees one in the trunk, almost exactly one hour into the film’s running time. (Okay, admittedly, we see the Zombie before that, but voodoo zombies aren’t the same thing we think of today, and even in this film can just as easily be explained as someone who is heavily drugged rather than someone under any some sort of legitimate magical curse.)

As a Type A, the film allows for more of a slow burn than many movies do today get to the genuinely frightening elements. It takes almost a half hour of the film’s short 85 minute running time to even get on the ship to Cuba, and the closest thing we’ve gotten to horror at this point are the brief allusions to ghosts in Mary’s castle, which she hasn’t even left for yet. The comedy, oddly, is also light, built primarily out of Hope’s quipping and his physical acting ability – the scene where Alex helps him out of Mary’s trunk, for example, is hysterical.

In fact, a lot of the movie is packed with red herrings and somewhat questionable moments that, in retrospect, are simple plot devices with no other value but to complicate the situation. The entire subplot regarding the mobster angry at Larry and Francisco seeking justice for his brother’s murder, in the end, amount to almost nothing. You could lift those characters out of the film entirely, come up with another explanation for getting Larry and Mary together (Larry was planning on a vacation, for Heaven’s sake, it would have been far more expedient simply to have him meet Mary on the cruise ship and get involved in her case when the potted plant is pushed towards her) and you’d still have essentially the same movie. Despite that, though, the movie doesn’t feel padded, and whips forward at a nice clip to the very entertaining finale.

As a rule, I try to not let cultural differences hurt my enjoyment of a movie too much. The 1940s were simply a different time, and I don’t really feel it’s fair to judge a film from that earlier period with the same standards as a contemporary film. That said, the portrayal of Alex frequently borders on the offensive. Although Willie Best gives a solid comedic performance, it’s based on the sort of minstrel show stereotype that, today, would get a film picketed from the moment it’s released. Alex is a clever character – frequently more logical and sensible than Larry, in fact – but it can be a bit hard to accept his cadence and intonation in the 21st century. Perhaps the worst moment is when a frightened Alex hides in a dust-filled clock, emerging covered with white powder and explaining that, when he gets scared, his “Al-bee-no blood shows through.” To his credit, though, Best also gets one of the film’s flat-out funniest moments, when Alex, at the end of his rope, knocks on the door to the closet where he trapped the zombie just to make sure it’s still there, then starts patiently pacing back and forth in front of one of the few things he can control.

To use the film’s age to its benefit, there is a degree of quaintness that makes it even more charming. The ease with which Larry is placed on the boat to Cuba is funny (the idea that anyone in 2012 could make it onto a ship that easily, let alone one to Cuba, is laughable). Hope’s Larry Lawrence is his typical charming screwball, particularly when he sees how shaken up Mary is by the whole affair and turns on some music, putting on a persona and dancing with her to cheer her up. The word today would be “adorkable” – he gladly plays the buffoon, but it’s purely for her benefit. Mary later calls him chivalrous, and when the obvious attraction between the two (who have only known each other for a few murder-obsessed hours) surfaces, there’s no trouble believing it.

Although the movie isn’t without its faults, it’s still a fun excursion with Bob Hope and well worth watching if you want lighter fare in the run-up to Halloween. The creepy moments are genuinely so, and the funny moments are as full of Hope’s timeless charm as any film he ever made.

Don’t forget, Lunatics and Laughter is the second Reel to Reel movie study. The first, Mutants, Monsters and Madmen, is now available as a $2.99 eBook in the Amazon Kindle store and Smashwords.com bookstore. And you can find links to all of my novels, collections, and short stories, in their assorted print, eBook and audio forms, at the Now Available page!

And while the 20 films for the first phase of Lunatics and Laughter have been selected, I’m still taking suggestions for next year’s expanded eBook edition. I’m especially looking for good horror/comedies from before 1980, so if you’ve got any ideas, please share them in the comments section.

02
Jul
12

Where to Buy… OPENING NIGHT OF THE DEAD

Opening Night of the Dead

Combining the wit of the Siegel City stories with an offbeat look at horror stories, Opening Night of the Dead is my little twist on the zombie tale.

From the back cover:

The Climax Studios Festival of Fear is a Halloween tradition, but with monsters roaming the theme park and a monster movie filming on the adjacent film lot, what hell will break loose when a real zombie surfaces and starts biting? When you can’t tell who’s alive and who’s undead, can a stuntman, a makeup artist, a sleaze-slinging blogger and a pair of former cops stop the end of the world from sneaking off the studio lot and infecting all of California?

Available now:

19
Jun
12

OPENING NIGHT hits tomorrow… read the prologue today!

As I mentioned Sunday, my all-new zombie novel Opening Night of the Dead is sittin’ high right now in the Amazon Kindle Store and the Smashwords.com bookstore, for just $2.99 in any e-reader format. The book should soon be available in the Nook store, Sony Reader store, iPad store, and in print as well. (Watch this space for those announcements as soon as they’re available.)

Also as I mentioned, I’m asking those of you who are planning to get the book to wait until Wednesday to buy it. In short, I’m hoping to so a small-scale “rush” of Amazon, getting as many people as possible to get the book in as short a period as possible, helping it gain a more favorable position on the highly-competitive horror charts and increasing its chances to be seen by more people. I’ve even started a Facebook Event for the Amazon Launch, which you are all totally invited to join if you haven’t done so already.

To give you one last little bonus before tomorrow’s big push, I thought I would give you a taste of the novel itself. So here, for the first time, is the prologue to Opening Night of the Dead. Hope you enjoy it!

OPENING NIGHT OF THE DEAD

PROLOGUE

If he knew the crap he was in for after he died, Josh Cambre would have made a more concerted effort to stay among the living.

He wandered the Halloween Festival of Fear alone, Kelly having abandoned him for a guy in a Conan the Barbarian costume (and not a square of cotton padding necessary to fill out the muscles, either). Josh was dressed as a scarecrow, and like Kelly’s new Conan, he had the physique for his costume. Josh was thin, spindly – even sickly if you looked at him from the wrong angle. To be frank, it was astonishing that a zombie would bother to bite somebody with so little meat on his bones. Then again, it was just his luck to run afoul of the only member of the undead in the world busy counting Weight Watchers points. He hadn’t encountered any real zombies yet, but after his date walked off with the guy in the loincloth, he lost most of his inclination to keep on going. He wasn’t considering suicide or anything – Josh didn’t quite have the steel for that – but if you’d told him there was a flesh-eating ghoul marching around the Climax Studios Amusement Park, he wouldn’t necessarily have made an effort to flee in terror.

Wandering the park alone, not knowing or particularly caring if Kelly would have a ride home with her Cimmerian king, he decided to force himself to have a good time. This would have been a brilliant idea, had it proven even remotely possible. The roller coaster was a bust (literally, it broke down with three people remaining in line ahead of him), and the last time he’d gone on a Tilt-a-Whirl he’d been left with three days of hugging the toilet bowl. Popping into a Haunted House, he decided, would be his safest bet. It was unlikely he’d run into Kelly; if he did he probably wouldn’t recognize her in the dark, and maybe a good scare would wipe the depressed look from his face.

Of course, that was the great thing about the scarecrow costume – the mask covered his entire head. His Coke-bottle glasses fit under there as neatly as his enormous ears, his matted-down haircut was invisible, his acne across the bridge of his too-small nose was as good as clear. No one could even see the small brown blob underneath his chin, the birthmark that his mother always tried telling him looked like a lion, but that people always said looked like he’d been eating chocolate and hadn’t wiped his face well enough.

Chocolate if he was lucky.

Christ, it was amazing that Kelly had even agreed to come here with him in the first place, wasn’t it?

An enormous fiberglass proxy of Frankenstein’s monster was grinning down at him, lightning flashing up into his face and reflecting onto the ground with a strobe effect. Shuffling around outside of the building he saw mummies, werewolves, and slashers aplenty. This was the one he wanted. There were a dozen Haunted Houses on the Climax Studios theme park property, each with its own theme or overlay – Science Gone Bad, Gateway to Hell, Crypt of the Vampires (reportedly the tamest haunt on the property, and oh, how that wounded him). After very little deliberation, Josh decided to soak his sorrows in Silver Screen Screams, a house full of dioramas plucked specifically from classic horror movies – and, no doubt, liberal use of the characters from Climax’s recent horror hit, The Beginner. In fact, he could see one of the bad guys from that movie waiting in the wings – a little bald fella wearing all black and twirling what looked like a surgical scalpel from a leather thong on his left hand. Good job making the little bastard look creepy, if nothing else. He worked with this fright factory. It was good enough for Josh to waste a little time before he dragged himself home.

He was told that actors in a Haunted House are trained to leap at the most terrified-looking person in a group, and in front of him was a giggling mob of teenage girls, each of whom seemed to make for a welcome target when someone was primed to leap out from a casket or reach a mummified arm out from behind a hidden panel in the wall. Since the actors in their monster makeup invariably blew their wads trying to terrify the girls, they were always resetting the scene when Josh walked past on his own a few seconds later. He tried not to focus on the idea that even actors paid to terrify people seemed to have no interest in him at all.

After about 20 minutes in the house, Josh wandered into an area lined with rows of authentic-looking corn stalks, with yellow lights twinkling at him in pairs – eyes watching him from behind the rows. Interesting effect, one that worked pretty well, he thought. It would be better if they tried to shape the lights a little, they were too round to accept as eyes, but he could give the Climax folks an A for Effort. He even felt appropriately dressed here in the cornfield, even though he didn’t actually feel like he fit in any better than he did anywhere else.

A nasty chill whispered across his back when the gurgling sound began, and the zombie that moved out of the cornrows reached out at him, hissing and snapping his teeth. Josh didn’t scream – didn’t even flinch. He just rolled his eyes and said, “Dude, I really think you wandered into the wrong scene. You’re supposed to be a creepy-ass kid with platinum blonde hair. Good makeup, though.”

He moved to continue after the girls on the path, but the corpse wrapped its claw-like hands around his arm. Josh turned, starting to get angry with the pushy kid in the zombie getup. “Look, man–”

Whatever threat or ultimatum would have followed was lost when the zombie’s thick, yellow teeth chomped through the burlap shirt that was part of his costume and into the admittedly thin flesh of Josh’s arm. He shouted, yanking the limb back out of instinct, but succeeding only in helping the zombie rip out a chunk of stringy flesh. Blood spurted into the air and dripped from the mouth of the hungry ghoul. Josh screamed again, but still had the presence of mind to back away, flailing, and bolt from the scene.

The arm hurt terribly, not only from the wound, but from an intense burning sensation that seemed to consume the whole area. When he placed his good hand over the wound he was stunned to feel how hot it was already, as if his arm alone could somehow contain a fever.

Oh god, he thought, what if that guy had rabies? What if he had something worse? Those videos, those Curtain guys, what if— What did he give to me?

He rushed ahead into the house, shoving aside the teenage girls (who threw some decidedly un-ladylike language at him, not that he was in any condition to get into a snit about it), and began to wander through room after room, shouting for help. In an Egyptian crypt, he nearly trampled an old woman in a walker. In Dr. Frankenstein’s lab, he actually shoved the Monster himself over into the lab table, eliciting some joyous laughter from the kids Frankie had been attempting to frighten. Finally, he stumbled through the exit door and fell right onto the pavement, rolling to the feet of a little man with a big smile.

Josh looked up at him, seeing someone dressed in all black, which wasn’t exactly unusual at this time of year. The small figure had no hair, but a wide, toothy grin spread across his face like a famished man looking down at a perfectly grilled steak. He held something in his left hand – cradled it, if one was going to be honest – but Josh wasn’t even paying attention, which was the last mistake of his life. Josh was happy to see anyone, even someone dressed like the Closer-monster from The Beginner.

“Dude! There’s someone in there… someone biting people! You gotta call the cops, you gotta–”

“Joshua Cambre.”

Josh blinked, surprised to hear his name from the lips of this stranger, startled just enough to arrest his panic. “I… yeah, that’s me, but…”

“Eighty-two years old,” the little man continued. He reached out with his right hand, grabbing the burlap mask that shielded Josh’s unseemly face from the rest of the Halloween crowd. With one fierce yank, he pulled the mask away, exposing Josh’s skin to the warm autumn air of California. Josh looked up, seeing a horrible gleam in the man’s eye, and suddenly he was far more terrified than he was when it was just the walking dead after him.

“You die,” the man said. “You die alone, from a pulmonary embolism in your sleep, after a tragically lonely and pathetically uneventful life.”

“What the hell? Dude, break character! Some asshole bit my arm, you gotta help me!”

The little man raised his hand, and something flashed. Something long and silver.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’m about to spare you all that.”

*   *   *

Aaaaaand, scene! There you have it, friends, the prologue to Opening Night of the Dead, and I sincerely hope you enjoyed it. Don’t forget, some time tomorrow head on over to Amazon.com if you’ve got a Kindle or Kindle App and pick it up. If you’ve got an iPad or some other reader, don’t worry. I’ve got you covered at Smashwords.com. And don’t forget, as part of the launch celebration, I’m cutting the price of my previous novel The Beginner to just 99 cents until August 1. That, too, is available at Amazon.com, as well as The Barnes & Noble Nook store, Smashwords.com, in print from Amazon.com (print version is still full price, sorry), and in your iPad bookstore.

See you all tomorrow!




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