I finished another chapter for Olivia an

30 10 2012

I finished another chapter for Olivia and Alecsandri. Body count: a film set falls into Hell and a protag lives their worst nightmare.





A Monster Is Only As Good As Its Victim

30 10 2012

Think of Dracula. Now think of any other monster either in print or TV or movies, video games, whatever.
What do you know about any of the permutations of Dracula, novel or movie versions? Evil, sexy, an indomitable will, holy water, cunning, that whole schmeer. Now let’s take that random other critter, I’ll say Jason from “Friday the 13th.” He’s evil, unstoppable, violently prudish against teens.
Who is scarier?
Has to be Dracula.
Why?
We’ve seen Dracula in action against sympathetic victims. Mina Harker and her bff Lucy Westenra were burgeoning young modern women, intelligent, filled with life. Jonathan Harker was a devoted, smart, ambitious young citizen. Van Helsing was well-educated, creative, and had a passion for the truth no matter where it led.
The three of them added together had admirable qualities, any one of which would be formidable against a normal human. Together, they comprised a mirror to Dracula’s own qualities.
What if you combined Mina, Jonathan, and Van Helsing together into one character? The immediate answer would be Buffy. A not-so-immediate answer would be Clarice Starling from “Silence of the Lambs”. Hannibal Lecter is Dracula without the sex; one could argue he is the perfect Dracula for the U.S. ‘90’s in that he was affluent, educated, ruthless, sexless, and fighting for European values like old school etiquette and well-played piccolos.
Buffy herself would be a bit vulnerable without the Scooby Gang, which was Whedon’s intention. He wanted a series with dramatic human relationships.
I realize this meanders a bit, but stay with me. A monster has to have challenges to overcome, just like a protagonist. Otherwise, you end up with Jason who kills unmemorable or annoying teens, with the only variety being how Guignol those deaths can be made. Monsters need challenges, vulnerabilities, and a hierarchy of needs. This makes the monster perversely sympathetic and more memorable.
Few writers put their monsters at risk. It can be a challenge to have a creature be thwarted, and still maintain suspense.
Has anyone thought of “Alien” or the sequels yet? Those Xenomorphs weren’t gonna quit. They want to reproduce and kill off whatever mammals they need to get those kids going. But they hid when they had to. They were sneaky when outgunned.
We know this because Ripley showed us through her determination and smarts when she fought them every step of the way through way-too-many movies.
Imagine what other lesser classic monsters would have to do to step up to Ripley. The Wolfman? The Creature? The original Mummy? They’d need new qualities to level the field, and those qualities would have brought them up from visually iconic to actual fearsomeness.
Yeah, yeah, zombies would be a challenge for Ripley, or Starling, or Van Helsing, but only because zombies work through strength of numbers. Those three would end up like Michonne in “The Walking Dead”, which is why she and Rick are such powerful characters.
So, for me, when I design a new monster I want to keep all this in mind. I have some old stories which editors told me had neat monsters, but were not engaging. Now I see I didn’t give the victims a fighting chance and make those monsters work harder.





Here are a couple of neat new anthologies…

26 10 2012

…just hitting the market.

First is John Skipp’s edited collection Psychos, which is part of the Black Dog big-thick-books like “Demons”, “Ghosts”, “Zombies”, etc. The whole series has much to offer, but this particular book has some old faves, rare names, and may indicate a slow turning of political tide happening in genre.

“Psychos” is obviously about sociopathic murderers, whether they be individuals or societies, deluded religionists or extreme nihilists. Skipp does his readers a favor by presenting a range of styles and motives with little redundancy.

Old faves include “Hop-Frog”, “The Most Dangerous Game”, and “The Small Assassin”. Old hands offer previously published works from Lansdale, Ketchum, Bloch, Schow, and Little. Trendier offerings are Jim Shepard’s tale of Gille de Rais, an excerpt of Harris’ “Red Dragon”,  and a Neil Gaiman tale.

Meanwhile, there are a lot of wonderful surprises. Robert Devereaux contributed an off-beat story of a spree-killer schoolboy who discovers the secret of God.  Cody Goodfellow provides a lifecoach whose self-actualization is boundless, and does so in a near-invisible second-person POV. Mehitobel Wilson takes the conceit in a well-drawn direction by making her society politely murderous.

What is doubly-refreshing is that social commentary seems to be returning to the horror short story. I am not as well-read as I would like, but it seems that Nick Mamatas’ story of a woman recruited into a US Department of secret abominations is one of the few scathing critiques to appear in the last few years.

This collection is worth its price.

One that I found less so was “A Book of Horrors” edited by Stephen Jones. His intention is to bring “horror” back to being horrific, according to his preface. In that, he succeeds in bringing back old names to deliver familiar thrills.

Peter Crowther delivers a mixed bag with an over-the-top mass murderer who turns out to be part of a species hiding in plain sight. Stephen King brings sympathetic characters together into suspenseful conflict with a too-predictable fiend. Ramsey Campbell gives his usual loathing of all things born after 1980. Lisa Tuttle has another ghost story about a dysfunctional relationship.  Even Angela Slatter’s award-winning contribution, though well-written, left me flat.





My Favorite Movies – Happy ’70’s Macho

20 10 2012

My Favorite Movies – Happy ’70’s Macho Nihilism at timwburke.com http://ow.ly/eDmDx





My Favorite Movies – Happy ’70’s Macho Nihilism

20 10 2012

Kelly’s Heroes (1970)
I love caper movies. I love WWII movies. I love Star-Studded Extravaganza Movies from the ‘70’s. “Kelly’s Heroes” was all three and lots more. In post D-Day France, Lt. Kelly (Clint Eastwood) discovers that there is a bank filled with gold bullion twenty miles behind German lines. He gathers his war-weary, mismanaged, strangely embittered troops and goes in for the big score. It has winning performances by Telly Savalas, Clint Eastwood, my spirit animal Don Rickles, and a quotable Donald Sutherland who captains a bohemian tank squadron some 15 years before bohemians were supposed to be in vogue. Sutherland’s character (named “Oddball”) would have fir easily into “Easy Rider” or any other hippy movie, and the tone of the men was unusually weary for a ‘70’s war film, and it pre-dated “The Boys In Company C” by only a few years, so I believe the movie was intended as an under-the-radar critique of Vietnam.
Nonetheless, it makes armed robbery in a warzone seem like rollicking good macho fun. Note that the theme song was performed by “The New Christie Minstrels” for extra ‘70’s goodness.

The Longest Yard (1972)
My father was a social services coordinator for the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He was also a huge Burt Reynolds fan. When we lived in Leavenworth, Kansas, my father found out that NBC was going to put on a show at the penitentiary…featuring Burt Reynolds. He got to drive Burt around, which was one of the happiest moments of his life.
So Adam Sandler must suffer for having taken my father’s favorite movie and remaking it with idiocy. But Sandler must live as Sandler, which is tortuous irony enough for him, I suppose.
Another Star-Studded Extravaganza, this time with a washed-up NFL quarterback (Guess?) fighting the system run by Eddie Arnold, culminating in an inmate vs. guard football game.
This movie was the ‘70’s. It had drinkin’, fightin’ the system, macho punch-outs, bright Technicolor, even a police car chase in the very beginning.
It also had many true-to-life prison details which amused my dad, from pruno in the toilet tank to tranny cheerleaders.
Like “KH”, it truly was a happy, nihilistic movie. Or, rather, they had only three values: love up the ladies, live for today, and do right by your friends.

I was too young for the tools of nihilism during the ‘70’s, but I had the next best things: an SST Smash-Up Derby Set, a Daisy Golden Eagle BB Rifle, and cane sugar Mountain Dew.

All of my friends and I were looking to pull an intense caper. We broke into empty houses. We sneaked out in the middle of the night and roamed to other neighborhoods for petty vandalism. When my friends the Mort Brothers sneaked out one night and got caught breaking into some treehouse, then punched out the outraged father and escaped, my 13-year-old self was jealous of their adventure. Meanwhile, my brothers were breaking curfews, setting things on fire, and experimenting with substances too.

We scorned the kid who studied and followed the rules. Hmmm.





Perhaps it should be “Doctor Whom”? at

16 10 2012

Perhaps it should be “Doctor Whom”?
at timwburke.com http://ow.ly/ewWfx





Perhaps it should be “Doctor Whom”? at

16 10 2012

Perhaps it should be “Doctor Whom”?
at timwburke.com http://ow.ly/ewWfx








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