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2013: A Look Back in HORROR

What follows is the latest installment of my annual “Look Back in Horror” overview of the previous year’s horror related happenings in the worlds of film and literature, as well as a listing of important figures in the horror media who passed on.

     Those of you who follow horror in the media are probably well aware of my first and foremost point, which is…

Horror at the Box Office
    
The good news: after some callow years horror cinema was back on top of the U.S. box office in 2013, with no less than three monster successes conclusively demonstrating that it is possible for a low or medium-budgeted horror movie to go head-to-head with mainstream offerings. The bad news: only one of those three films--the $137 million grossing THE CONJURING--was any good, with the others--THE PURGE and INSIDIOUS CHAPTER TWO--falling short quality-wise. Let’s hope (futilely I’m sure) the inevitable flood of like-minded horror flicks that are sure to follow will be better!

“Unique” Horror Films
    
Yes, 2013 contained some unique horror movies in addition to the expected zombie apocalypse and paranormal romance pictures. Unfortunately only a few of those unique films really connected, with most of the rest--ANTIVIRAL, KISS OF THE DAMNED, ESCAPE FROM TOMORROW, JOHN DIES AT THE END, HAUNTER--missing the mark. This puts me in something of a bind, as I like to encourage originality whenever possible, but also have to be honest in my assessments--and regarding the abovementioned films the sad truth is (to borrow a line from the late Twilight Zone Magazine) they’re new, they’re different and they’re bad.

Not-So-Unique Horror Films
    
Amid the idiosyncratic offerings mentioned above we got the usual glut of sequels and remakes. There were also several releases with curiously similar, if not identical, premises.
     Examples of the latter include a pair of young-woman-slowly-withering-away-from-an-unknown-disease movies (THANATOMORPHOSE and CONTRACTED), two vacationing-couple-on-a-killing-rampage offerings (SIGHTSEERS and COTTAGE COUNTRY), two reclusive-family-facing-up-to-its-dark-lineage movies (STOKER and WE ARE WHAT WE ARE), and even a pair of vampire-babes-loose-in-a-small-town pictures (KISS OF THE VAMPIRE and BYZANTIUM). What does this portend? That originality is in extremely short supply, I guess--but that, sadly, was something I already knew.

Noteworthy Trends, Literary
    
Micro-niche publishing proliferated in 2013, with bookstore distribution a thing of the past for most horror publishers. This means that unless you frequented the horror literature pages at Amazon or the authors’ blogs--or horror review websites like this one--you probably weren’t aware of worthy publications like SKORPIO by Mike Baron, THE SUBJUGATED BEAST by R.R. Ryan or MISS HOMICIDE PLAYS THE FLUTE by Brendan Connell, none of which turned up on the shelves of Barnes & Noble.
     Mainstream horror publishing was still very much in evidence, mind you, even though the establishment publishers insisted on playing the horror (re)name game. See Joe Hill’s NOS4A2, which was categorized as “supernatural suspense.” Yoko Ogawa’s collection REVENGE is apparently comprised of “Dark Tales,” while THE HEAVENS RISE by Christopher Rice was sold as a “supernatural novel.” As for John Ajvide Lindkvist’s LET THE OLD DREAMS DIE, the dreaded H-word is actually brought up in the final line of the hardcover edition’s inner jacket blurb, which grudgingly identifies its author as “the most impressive horror writer writing today” (italics mine).

Review Snafus
    
I’m sure you all know the details of the Lianne Spiderbaby plagiarism scandal that occurred back in July. I won’t rehash them (if you’re one of the three or so people who don’t know what happened you can read about it here) except to say that I have a new respect for Rue Morgue magazine, as it was one of the few media outlets that rejected Ms. Spiderbaby’s cut-and-paste “reviews.”
     Interestingly enough, the Spiderbaby scandal was preceded by another controversy involving a horror movie review. The culprit in this case was perennial douche bag Rex Reed, who was caught bullshitting in his New York Observer review of V/H/S 2, a film he apparently found “unwatchable from start to finish.” The problem is Reed didn’t actually bother watching the whole thing from start to finish, as indicated by his admission that he walked out during a scene that takes place in the first twenty five minutes. “Unwatchable” or not, I think it’s fair to expect a film critic to view an entire film before reviewing it, especially when that critic is as obscenely well paid as Rex Reed.

Favorite Publisher
    
That would be Ramble House, a staunchly independent operation that has been putting out interesting books for several years, including the complete works of vital but neglected writers like Harry Stephen Keeler and Walter S. Masterman. 2013 was one of Ramble House’s strongest years to date, with new editions of Herbert Asbury’s fabulously scarce 1927 potboiler THE DEVIL OF PEI-LING and two of the most sought-after horror novels of all time: THE SUBJUGATED BEAST and FREAK MUSEUM by R.R. Ryan.
     Those releases alone are enough to permanently enshrine Ramble House in my view, but in 2013 they also put out the essential pulp horror anthology TALES OF TORMENT and interesting-looking novels like DOCTOR ARNOLDI by Tiffany Thayer and THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ANTLERED MAN by Edwy Searles Brooks. Keep your eye on Ramble House, as they show no signs of slowing down in 2014!

Favorite DVD Release
    
I’m not sure why anyone in their right mind would put out DVDs of BLACK DEVIL DOLL FROM HELL and TALES FROM THE QUADEAD ZONE, complete with audio commentaries and a documentary mini-feature, but I’m kind of glad Massacre Video did so in their FILMS OF CHESTER NOVELL TURNER box set. There are bad movies, as well as so-bad-they’re-good movies--and then there are movies so colossally imbecilic they mark out an entirely new, uncharted category. Such is the case with these two films.

Favorite Discoveries, Literary and Cinematic, from 2013:

BUTCHER’S PRIDE by Chas Balun: An unheralded sickie from the late Chas Balun that amply demonstrates his talent for and knowledge of all things gruesome.
DÉJÀ VU (VEC VIDJENO): Yugoslavian psycho horror from the eighties. There’s a lot here you’ll have to forgive, but it’s a strong and impacting film nonetheless.
GASTON LEROUX’S PHANTOM STORIES Edited by Peter Haining: From the author of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, an irresistible selection of early 20th Century grand guignol tales.
GODS IN SPANDEX: A SURVIVOR’S ACCOUNT OF EIGHTIES CINEMA OBSCURA Edited By Suzanne Donahue, Mikael Sovijarvi: A vital but little known film book comprised of essays on various eighties-era flicks by their directors and stars.
INVASION OF THE MUTANOIDS By Stephen Romano: The talented Mr. Romano’s long-forgotten debut novel is easily the most over-the-top alien invasion splatterthon I’ve ever read.
NATURAL ENEMIES By Julius Horwitz: A pitiless account of suburban psychosis that aims to disturb, and more than succeeds!
THE NECROPHILIAC by Gabrielle Wittkop: Quite simply the last word on necrophilia, a novella purporting to be the confessions of an unrepentant corpse-fucker.
O ANJO DA NOITE: This Brazilian made stunner, involving a young babysitter and a succession of suspicious phone calls, prefigured classics like HALLOWEEN and WHEN A STRANGER CALLS.
OUR LADY OF PAIN by John Blackburn: Apparently the darkest novel ever written by Britain’s John Blackburn, who showcases enormous genre-bending ingenuity herein.
SYSTEM: Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tale “The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Plumb” is brilliantly dramatized by director Janusz Majewski in this criminally neglected made-for-Polish TV movie.
WARNING SHADOWS: A rediscovered silent film notable for its hypnotic use of light and shadow.

Remembering Those Who’ve Passed On

Campbell Armstrong (1944-2013) Novelist/Playwright: DEATH’S HEAD, THE WANTING, LETTERS FROM THE DEAD

James Avery (1945-2013) Actor: THE LADIES CLUB, EXTREMITIES, NIGHTFLYERS

Conrad Bain (1923-2013) Actor: DARK SHADOWS (TV)

Aleksei Balabanov (1959-2013) Director: OF FREAKS AND MEN, CARGO 200

Iain Banks (1954-2013) Novelist: THE WASP FACTORY, WALKING ON GLASS, THE BRIDGE, COMPLICITY

W. Watts Biggers (1927-2013) Novelist/Songwriter: THE MAN INSIDE

Antonia Bird (1951-2013) Director: RAVENOUS

Karen Black (1939-2013) Actress: THE PYX, TRILOGY OF TERROR, BURNT OFFERINGS, INVADERS FROM MARS, CRIMETIME, CHILDREN OF THE CORN IV, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES

Francoise Blanchard (1954-2013) Actress: ZOMBIE 5, THE LIVING DEAD GIRL, THE SIDEWALKS OF BANGKOK

Gary Brander (1930-2013) Novelist/Screenwriter: THE HOWLING (novel), HELLBORN, THE BRAIN EATERS, CAMERON’S CLOSET, CARRION, QUINTANA ROO

Eileen Brennan (1932-2013) Actress: THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER, TALES FROM THE CRYPT (TV), JEEPERS CREEPERS

Richard Brooker (1954-2013) Actor/Stuntman: DEATHSTALKER, FRIDAY THE 13th PART III

Patrice Chereau (1944-2013) Actor/Director: L’HOMME BLESSE, QUEEN MARGOT, TIME OF THE WOLF

Park Chul-soo (1948-2013) Director: 301/302

Rafael Corkidi (1930-2013) Cinematographer/Director: EL TOPO, ANGELS AND CHERUBS, THE HOLY MOUNTAIN

Paul Crouch (1934-2013) Televangelist/Producer: THE OMEGA CODE, MEGGIDO: THE OMEGA CODE 2

Louise Currie (1913-2013) Actress: VOODOO MAN, THE APE MAN

Damiano Damiani (1922-2013) Director: AMITYVILLE II: THE POSSESSION, THE DARK SUN

Nigel Davenport (1928-2013) Actor: PEEPING TOM, NO BLADE OF GRASS, BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1973), THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU, PHASE IV

Gerry Day (1922-2013) Screenwriter: THE BLACK HOLE, THE WATCHER IN THE WOODS

Roger Dobson (1954-2013) Journalist/Editor: ARTHUR MACHEN: APOSTLE OF WONDER, ARTHUR MACHEN: ARTIST & MYSTIC

Russell S. Doughten (1927-2013) Producer: A THIEF IN THE NIGHT, A DISTANT THUNDER, IMAGE OF THE BEAST, THE PRODIGAL PLANET

Daniel Duval (1944-2013) Actor/Director: L’AGRESSION, TIME OF THE WOLF, CACHE

David Early (1938-2013) Actor: DAWN OF THE DEAD (original), CREEPSHOW, MONKEY SHINES, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, INNOCENT BLOOD, THE DARK HALF

Roger Ebert (1942-2013) Screenwriter/Critic: BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS

David R. Ellis (1952-2013) Stuntman/Director: INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978), FATAL ATTRACTION, FINAL DESTINATION 2, SNAKES ON A PLANE, ASYLUM, THE FINAL DESTINATION, SHARK NIGHT

Rossella Falk (1926-2013) Actress: BLACK BELLY OF THE TARANTULA, SEVEN BLOOD-STAINED ORCHIDS, SLEEPLESS

Dennis Farina (1944-2013) Actor: MANHUNTER, TALES FROM THE CRYPT (TV)

Joan Fontaine (1917-2013) Actress: REBECCA, SUSPICION, THE WITCHES

Bryan Forbes (1926-2013) Actor/Screenwriter/Director: SÉANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON, THE STEPFORD WIVES

Steve Forrest (1925-2013) Actor: THE TWILIGHT ZONE (original), NIGHT GALLERY, THE SIXTH SENSE (TV), GHOST STORY (1972)

Jess Franco (1930-2013) Director: THE SINISTER DR. ORLOFF, JACK THE RIPPER, FACELESS, BLOODY MOON

Annette Funicello (1942-2013) Actress: DR. GOLDFOOT AND THE BIKINI MACHINE, HEAD

James Gandolfini (1961-2013) Actor: SHOCK! SHOCK! SHOCK!, PERDITA DURANGO, FALLEN, 8MM

Parke Godwin (1929-2013) Novelist: DARKER PLACES, A COLD BLUE LIGHT

William A. Graham (1926-2013) Director: BATMAN (TV), GUYANA TRAGEDY: THE STORY OF JIM JONES

Richard Griffiths (1947-2013) Actor: BRITANNIA HOSPITAL, SLEEPY HOLLOW

Haji (1946-2013) Actress: MOTORPSYCHO, FASTER PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!

Julie Harris (1925-2013) Actress: THE HAUNTING (1963), HOW AWFUL ABOUT ALLAN, TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED, NUTCRACKER: THE MOTION PICTURE, THE DARK HALF, THE OUTER LIMITS (1998)

William Harrison (1933-2013) Novelist/Screenwriter: IN A WILD SANCTUARY, ROLLERBALL (1975)

Ray Harryhausen (1920-2013) Visual Effects Creator/Screenwriter/Producer: THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA, 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH, THE VALLEY OF GWANGI

Rick Hautala (1949-2013) Novelist: MOONDEATH, NIGHTSTONE, LITTLE BROTHERS, DARK SILENCE, BEYOND THE SHROUD, THE MOUNTAIN KING, REUNION, THE HORROR…THE HORROR

James Herbert (1943-2013) Novelist: THE RATS, THE FOG, THE SURVIVOR, LAIR, DOMAIN, SEPULCHRE, MOON, THE MAGIC COTTAGE, THE CITY

Marty Hornstein (1937-2013) Producer: THE WOMEN’S CLUB, ALONG CAME A SPIDER

Wojciech Kilar (1932-2013) Composer: BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, THE NINTH GATE

Bernadette Lafont (1938-2013) Actress: WEB OF PASSION, LA REVELATEUR

Jose Ramon Larraz (1929-2013) Director: WHIRLPOOL, DEVIATION, SYMPTOMS, THE HOUSE THAT VANISHED, VAMPYRES, BLACK CANDLES

Ed Lauter (1938-2013) Actor: LOLLY-MADONNA XXX, KING KONG (1976), MAGIC, CUJO, THE LOST

Doris Lessing (1919-2013) Novelist: BRIEFING FOR A DESCENT INTO HELL, THE FIFTH CHILD, BEN IN THE WORLD

Fred J. Lincoln (1937-2013) Actor/Director: LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (original)

Bigas Luna (1946-2013) Director: REBORN, ANGUISH

Paul Mantee (1931-2013) Actor: THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON’T THEY?, DAY OF THE ANIMALS, THE MANITOU

Ray Manzarek (1939-2013) Musician/Novelist: SNAKE MOON

Luciano Martino (1933-2013) Producer/Director/Screenwriter: THE WHIP AND THE BODY, SCREAMERS, EATEN ALIVE, A BLADE IN THE DARK, DELIRIUM

Richard Matheson (1926-2013) Screenwriter/Novelist: THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, I AM LEGEND (novel), A STIR OF ECHOES, EARTHBOUND

Mariangela Melato (1941-2013) Actress: THE TREE OF GUERNICA, FLASH GORDON

Ric Menello (1952-2013) Director/Screenwriter/Columnist: EUROPEAN TRASH CINEMA

Rentaro Mikuni (1923-2013) Actor: KWAIDAN, VENGEANCE IS MINE, LUMINOUS MOSS

Hal Needham (1931-2013) Stuntman/Director: DEATH CAR ON THE FREEWAY

Ken Norton (1943-2013) Boxer/Actor: MANDINGO, DRUM

Philip Nutman (1963-2013) Journalist/Screenwriter/Novelist: THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, WET WORK, CITIES OF NIGHT

Peter O’Toole (1932-2013) Actor: CALIGULA, THE RAY BRADBURY THEATER, HIGH SPIRITS, THE RAINBOW THIEF, PHANTOMS

Nagisa Oshima (1932-2013) Director: IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES, IN THE REALM OF PASSION

Michael Palmer (1942-2013) Novelist: FLASHBACK, NATURAL CAUSES

Ted Post (1918-2013) Director: THE TWILIGHT ZONE (original), THE BABY

Harry Reems (1947-2013) Actor: THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES, FORCED ENTRY, SEX WISH

Garry Robbins (1957-2013) Wrestler/Actor: HUMONGOUS, THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1989), IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, GOOSEBUMPS, WRONG TURN

Jay Robinson (1930-2013) Actor: THE NIGHT STALKER, BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA

Eddie Romero (1924-2013) Screenwriter/Producer/Director: MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND, BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT, BEAST OF BLOOD, THE TWILIGHT PEOPLE

Joseph Ruskin (1924-2013) Actor: THE OUTER LIMITS, THE TWILIGHT ZONE (original), THE SCORPION KING

Robin Sachs (1951-2013) Actor: VAMPIRE CIRCUS, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (TV), THE LOST WORLD (1997), RESIDENT EVIL: DAMNATION

J.R. Salamanca (1922-2013) Novelist: LILITH

Otto Sander (1941-2013) Actor: KILLER CONDOM, CONVERSATION WITH THE BEAST

Richard C. Sarafian (1930-2013) Actor/Director: THE TWILIGHT ZONE (original), BATMAN (TV), FRAGMENT OF FEAR, LOLLY-MADONNA XXX

Milo O’Shea (1926-2013) Actor: THEATRE OF BLOOD, THE BUTCHER BOY

Gilbert Taylor (1914-2013) Cinematographer: REPULSION, THEATRE OF DEATH, MACBETH (1971), THE OMEN, DAMIEN: OMEN II, DRACULA (1979), VENOM

Dell Tenney (1930-2013) Actor/Producer/Screenwriter/Director: THE HORROR OF PARTY BEACH, THE CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE, I EAT YOUR SKIN, DESCENDANT

Barbara Trentham (1944-2013) Actress: THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY, WOLF MOON

Jack Vance (1916-2013) Author: BAD RONALD

Luciano Vincenzoni (1926-2013) Screenwriter: WOLVES OF THE DEEP, ORCA

Paul Walker (1973-2013) Actor: MONSTER IN THE CLOSET, JOY RIDE

Jon Manchip White (1924-2013) Novelist: NIGHTCLIMBER, DEATH BY DREAMING

Colin Wilson (1931-2013) Writer: THE STRANGE GENIUS OF DAVID LINDSAY, THE MIND PARASITES, LINGARD, THE SPACE VAMPIRES, SPIDERWORLD

Michael Winner (1935-2013) Director: THE NIGHTCOMERS, THE SENTINEL, DIRTY WEEKEND

 

--1/16/14

     

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