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2011: A Look Back in Horror

2011? It was a crappy year for horror movies and a so-so one for horror novels. Below, as I do around this time every year, I’ll attempt to detail what occurred in the areas of horror film and literature over the previous year, and how I feel about those occurrences.

     Once again, ‘11 was not the best year for movies or books, with quite a few disappointments. The biggest? Read on…

Biggest Disappointments
A large part of what made the genre films of 2011 so disappointing were the many crummy efforts of established masters. I bitched at some length about this very issue ten years ago, but I’m an optimist at heart, and can’t help but root for my favorite filmmakers. Yet John Carpenter’s THE WARD and John Landis’ BURKE AND HARE under whelmed, David Cronenberg’s A DANGEROUS METHOD and Roman Polanski’s CARNAGE were so-so at best, while Wes Craven’s SCREAM 4 and Shinya Tsukamoto’s TETSUO THE BULLET MAN flat-out stank. As if all that weren’t enough, we also got the dispiriting scoop (via an Indiewire interview with filmmaker Abel Ferrara) that David Lynch is officially done making movies.
     The news on the literary front was only slightly better. Several great writers had new novels in 2011, and of them Robert McCammon’s THE FIVE and Graham Joyce’s THE SILENT LAND were non-starters. At least Jack Ketchum’s THE WOMAN was strong, and Stephen King’s 11/22/63 was easily the great man’s finest work in some time.

Favorite Controversy
I love it when people get pissed off by what I write! 2011 was pretty quiet on that front, although one article did manage to ruffle some feathers: a short piece I wrote on Fangoria back in September. I feel the article was pretty benign overall, but apparently Fango’s editor Chris Alexander believed otherwise. Within a week of the posting he wrote me two back-to-back emails pointing out the many “glaring errors” I’d made (all of them minor). His first email was courteous enough, but in the second he got quite bitchy and unprofessional.
     I corrected the errors he pointed out, which changed the overall thrust of the article not at all. I’m guessing Mr. Alexander wanted a much more radical alteration, perhaps with me conceding that Fango’s problems are all in the past and everything is hunky-dory. Sorry, but that just ain’t the case! Fangoria may have paid off the many writers it stiffed in years past (or so Alexander claims), but I can attest that the widespread resentment engendered by Fango’s actions continues to linger.

Most Obnoxious TV/Movie Trend
I’ve no idea how the modernized fairy tale craze got started, but it’s pointless and irritating, and was already done to death years ago (see THE COMPANY OF WOLVES, SNOW WHITE: A TALE OF TERROR and THE BROTHERS GRIMM, to name but a few examples). 2011 gave us the TWILIGHT wannabes BEASTLY and RED RIDING HOOD, and not one but two arty-pervy variants on Sleeping Beauty--the French LA BELLE ENDORMIE and the Aussie SLEEPING BEAUTY, which prove the trend isn’t limited to Hollywood--while on the tube we were subjected to GRIMM and ONCE UPON A TIME. And the craze shows no signs of cooling down, with SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN, JACK THE GIANT KILLER and MIRROR MIRROR on tap for 2012.

Most Inexplicable Movie Trend
The torture-porn cycle officially ended a couple years ago, but nobody appears to have informed the filmmaking community. 2011 saw no less than two serious contenders for the most disgusting movie of all time, A SERBIAN FILM and HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2, both of which contained unprecedented amounts of unpleasantness despite being polar opposites in most other respects (i.e. A SERBIAN FILM was a thoughtful political allegory while HUMAN CENTIPEDE 2 was pandering crap).
     We can add Lucky McKee’s THE WOMAN, a film one critic dubbed “torture porn for people who’d never admit to liking torture porn,” even though it was barely released (see below). It was the subject of a memorable ruckus at the
Sundance Film Festival, with a dork screaming about the “degradation of women” at a post-screening Q&A (check it out on YouTube).
     Another notable sickie was I MELT WITH YOU, which was plenty offensive in its unsparing depictions of drug taking, suicide and miscellaneous bad behavior--and was also the subject of much controversy at Sundance. For that matter, ‘11 also saw the straight-to-DVD release of the Scott Spiegel directed HOSTEL 3, which, unsurprisingly, excited nobody.

Most Prevalent Literary Trend
The answer is the same as last year’s: the phenomenal rise of eBooks. I can tell you this without consulting any statistics due to the simple fact that I, who not too long ago was opposed to e-texts of any sort, have found myself venturing farther and farther into the dreaded e-text arena, having read quite a few digitized books over the past year. Is print truly dead? No, but it’s very nearly on life support, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Saddest Movie Theater Closure (L.A. Area)
West Hollywood’s Laemmle Sunset 5 multiplex was around for nearly twenty years before closing its doors on November 30, 2011 (my birthday, ironically enough). During its time this venue was L.A.’s primary source for quality foreign and independent fare, as well as quite a few interesting horror flicks--LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, THIRST, REPO THE GENETIC OPERA, STAKE LAND, AMER and many other worthy scare films all had their So Cal premiere at the Sunset 5.
     I understand the theater has been taken over by the Sundance Channel, who are going to turn it into an upscale art house with reserved seating and cappuccino. This means it will (hopefully) still show the same kind of movies, but that the Sunset 5’s funky vibe (a welcome respite from the increasing yuppification of the surrounding Sunset Plaza) is gone forever.

Best/Worst Film Distributor
Bloody Disgusting Selects, the distribution arm of bloody-disgusting.com, picked up some terrific films for theatrical release in 2001, including Lucky McKee’s THE WOMAN and Sion Sono’s COLD FISH. Unfortunately, those releases were so scant as to be nonexistent to anyone not located near a big city--and nor were they too easy to see for those of us who do reside in such locales! THE WOMAN, for instance, barely managed a one-week run at West Hollywood’s above-mentioned Sunset 5, where it had to swap show times with another movie playing in the same auditorium. The Bloody-disgusting crew deserve credit for their efforts, but the sad truth is their theatrical endeavors have had little-to-no impact thus far.

Favorite Publishers
The following independent publishers aren’t “new” by any means, yet I only recently discovered both.
     First up is Black Coat Press, which specializes in classic French genre literature in translation. In recent months I’ve found myself perusing Black Coat’s website quite frequently, and own several of their publications, including the Maurice Renaud classics DR. LERNE and THE BLUE PERIL, John Antoine Nau’s ENEMY FORCE and many more. All are attractively packaged and fluidly translated books, and all are well worth your time and money.

     My other new favorite publisher is the UK-based Eibonvale Press. Run by author Douglas Thompson (whose novel SYLVOW was one of my favorite reads of ‘10), Eibonvale has put out quite a few weird and wonderful books, with their recent ‘11 releases FEATHER by David Rix and THE SILVER WIND by Nina Allan being particular standouts.

Favorite Discoveries, Literary and Cinematic, from Past Years

BAD RONALD by JACK VANCE: Don’t let the so-so TV movie adaptation put you off reading this novel, as it’s a terrifically creepy and imaginative psycho-thriller by a master.

BLACK DEVIL DOLL FROM HELL: I’ve known about this widely-reviled crap movie classic for years, but was unprepared for just what an astounding wallow in ineptitude it truly is!

CATASTROPHE by DINO BUZZATI: Buzzati is one of those authors I’ve been meaning to get to for years. In 2011 I finally achieved that goal, and couldn’t have asked for a better introduction than this amazing collection.

DOCTOR LERNE by MAURICE RENAUD: A wonderful relic from France that takes the raw materials of THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU and twists ‘em in wildly perverse directions.

GONG TAU: AN ORIENTAL BLACK MAGIC: I know a lot of you already know about this magnificently wet and wild ‘07 Hong Kong freak-out. I’m just glad I’ve finally gotten around to seeing the thing--I know I won’t be forgetting it anytime soon!

THE HORDE by IGOR BARANKO: A terrifically bizarre Jodorowsky-esque graphic novel that mixes politics, grotesquerie and psychedelia into a unique and wondrous whole.

KISS MY SNAKE: Morbid and fascinating documentary thrills abound in this too-wild-for-fiction exploration of Thailand’s snake boxing subculture.

THE LITTLE PEOPLE by JOHN CHRISTOPHER: You can’t go wrong with a tale about tiny Nazi-engineered people afoot in Ireland, and John Christopher pulls it off with considerable brio and sophistication.

SEX AND VIOLENCE IN HOLLYWOOD by RAY GARTON: A page turner par excellence, and without question one of the finest novels ever written by the talented Mr. Garton.

THE SHINY NARROW GRIN by JANE GASKELL: A sixties-era vampire romance that can be viewed as the TWILIGHT of its time, although this novel is infinitely superior in every respect.

DREAM CITY (TRAUMSTADT): In truth this adaptation of Alfred Kubin’s THE OTHER SIDE isn’t all that good a movie, but it really captures the novel’s hallucinatory thrust.

THE WEDDING RING (L’ALLIANCE): A strange, mysterious, somewhat Roman Polanski-esque French obscurity staring the striking Anna Karina, who’s never been better utilized onscreen.

In Memoriam

John Barry (1933-2011) Composer/Conductor: SÉANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON, KING KONG, MURDER BY PHONE, JAGGED EDGE

Roberts Blossom (1924-2011) Actor: DERANGED, CHRISTINE, TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE, THE (New) TWILIGHT ZONE

William Campbell (1923-2011) Actor: DEMENTIA 13, HUSH…HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE, BLOOD BATH

Jeff Conaway (1950-2011) Actor: TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE, ELVIRA: MISTRESS OF THE DARK, MONSTERS, FREDDY’S NIGHTMARES, DARK GAMES

Jackie Cooper (1922-2011) Actor: THE (Original) TWILIGHT ZONE, CHOSEN SURVIVORS, JOURNEY INTO FEAR

Peter Falk (1927-2011) Actor: THE TWILIGHT ZONE, MURDER BY DEATH, THE LOST WORLD

Michael Gough (1916-2011) Actor: HORROR OF DRACULA, HORRORS OF THE BLACK MUSEUM, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS, THE SKULL, TROG, THE LEGEND OF THE HELL HOUSE, VENOM, THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW, BATMAN, BLACKEYES, BATMAN RETURNS, BATMAN FOREVER, BATMAN & ROBIN, SLEEPY HOLLOW, CORPSE BRIDE

Farley Granger (1925-2011) Actor: STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE

Sidney Lumet (1924-2011) Director: CHILD’S PLAY, MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, DEATHTRAP, THE MORNING AFTER, GUILTY AS SIN

Polly Platt (1939-2011) Writer/Producer/Production Designer: TARGETS, THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS, CORMAN’S WORLD: EXPLOITS OF A HOLLYWOOD REBEL

Pete Postlethwaite (1946-2011) Actor: ALIEN 3, SUITE 16, CRIMETIME, DARK WATER, THE OMEN

Del Riesman (1924-2011) Writer/Producer: THE TWILIGHT ZONE

Cliff Robertson (1923-2011) Actor: MAN ON A SWING, SHOOT, BRAINSTORM

Raul Ruiz (1941-2011) Filmmaker: THE TERRITORY, THE BLIND OWL, DARK AT NOON, SHATTERED IMAGE, LA MAISON NUCINGEN

Ken Russell (1927-2011) Filmmaker/Novelist/Actor: THE DEVILS, GOTHIC, THE LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM, THE FALL OF THE LOUSE OF USHER

Maria Schneider (1952-2011) Actress: SCAR TISSUE, MAMA DRACULA

Bubba Smith (1945-2011) Actor: BLACK MOON RISING, THE SILENCE OF THE HAMS, BLOOD RIVER

Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) Actress: DOCTOR FAUSTUS, NIGHT WATCH, THE DRIVER’S SEAT

Bill Varney (1934-2011) Sound Recordist/Mixer: ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, HALLOWEEN II, THE BEAST WITHIN, POLTERGEIST, THE THING, THE ENTITY, HALLOWEEN III, THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS, TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE, THE DEAD ZONE, FIRESTARTER, GREMLINS

Peter Yates (1929-2011) Director: EYEWITNESS, THE HOUSE ON CARROLL STREET

Susannah York: (1939-2011) Actress: IMAGES, THE MAIDS, THE SHOUT, THE AWAKENING, DAEMON, THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER

Laura Ziskin (1950-2011) Producer: EYES OF LAURA MARS

 

--2/1/12 

     

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