Sunday Movie: “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” and “Dr. Phibes Rises Again”

22 03 2015

Both directed by Robert Feust, who was Art Director and later Director for the BBC series “The Avengers”. They are buttery toffees of camp British horror. The movies pounce straight over-the-top with art deco, vague ’30s settings and revenge with elan (bathing a victim in sprout puree to get locusts to eat her). The movies reinforced Price’s marketability in playing heroic men driven to darkness. Any seriousness remaining are driven away by character actors Terry-Thomas, Hugh Griffiths, and John Laurie. Note: the ’70s sucked one and all into its La Brea tarpit. Writer William Goldstein’s only other credit was screenwriter for “The Amazing Dobermans”, while Feust went on direct camp horror “The Devil’s Rain” (Shatner on screen with Ernest Borgnine), a silent comedy series plus an all-woman detective show for BBC-TV, and episodes of ABC-TV’s “The After School Special.”

A third film was planned with Phibes taking on Hitler, so a guy on IMDB claims.

How would Phibes have taken down the High Command? Goering? Himmler?
The trailer for “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” via YouTube.

The ENTIRE MOVIE of “Dr. Phibes Rises Again”. A bit chattier than the first movie, but it’s still amazing what Price can convey merely with gestures and his eyes.


How Would You Write These Scenes?

17 03 2015

I don’t recall if I showed this before, but it’s worth repeating.
Imagine your scenes in terms of senses, not in what happens. Not just the five senses, but how the POV character’s heart is pounding, feet seem to be sinking into the floor, etc.

I like shadows rippling and distorting along surfaces and I write with that in mind. I like horrible things seen in harsh daylight. I like to keep the monsters implied or unseen until the end. I like smells and textures. I read someone who suggested using at least three senses per page, which is nice because it keep description from bogging down the plot.

Have a look at 13 Classic Scenes That Explain How Horror Movies Work.


13 03 2015

The world has turned too many times. The era for the satiric British voice passed away last decade and the cavalier remark died in this one. My regret is not just appreciating Sir Terry while he lived, but that his like will not come again.

I have read very little Pratchett. I tried but my Brit humor nerve had been burned out long ago. People I admire admired Pratchett, though. I read the subjects he tackled and quotes from his work and I sorely felt the fault for my limitation.

I read the major publications and keep track of novel releases and for the life of me I can’t imagine who else examines the human condition, darts in, and tickles it. Would such a writer have a chance in today’s market?
Short stories? As far as I can see, the only venues publishing blithe and pithy humor are Asimov’s, F&SF, and Daily Science Fiction. Pratchett’s work was too Eurocentric and too lacking in florid or floral language for any other venue. Not enough pop culture references to get on McSweeny’s.

Who would publish his novel? Orbit? Baen?
Of his first three novels, the first was an ill-received fantasy and the next two were Niven parodies. What publisher would have stuck with him beyond those to take a risk on Ankh-Morpork?

I am not alone in my lack of appreciation. SFWA had many chances to give Sir Terry his due with Hugos and Nebulas. Not one nomination over decades, except for one near the end of his life. He refused the award. Good for him.
SFWA joins every other literary body and the MPAA in being too insecure to acclaim some joke-teller. He’d be too British to get a Twain.
Who growing in our midst could be a quasi-Pratchett? Alex Shvartsman? Grady Hendrix?
Neil Gaiman has reverted to formula.
Jeffrey Fford?
Esther Friesner? Another humor writer without a Hugo or Nebula.

The fragmentation of Genre markets have made a writer like Sir Terry almost impossible. The Genres are being crushed by seriousness. The vitality and irreverence that Sir Terry thrived on is fleeing into Young Adult and Romance fiction, or trying to define itself as Weird, Bizarro, or Superversive (google them).

It may be decades before we see the likes of him again, if ever.

Catastrophe and Transformation: One Writer’s View of Survival and Success

2 03 2015

Writing “The Other”. Then Driving “The Other” Mad. Then Eating “The Other’s” Cat

2 03 2015

As a thinking human, I reserve the right to change my mind.

There are concerns in the genre communities about cultural appropriation and writing The Other, meaning a character who lives beyond the experience of its author. Being a heterosexual, able-bodied, European-descended, middle-aged man, for me The Other is anyone not sharing any one of my traits. There is a lot of discussion about the proper method of assembling The Other.

Let’s consider assembling a character and also the nature of identity. I have dozens of attributes. Only a few of these would have any bearing on the plot of a short story. More attributes, maybe a dozen, are needed to write a character rounded enough to maintain a reader’s interest in a novel.

I had an idea where the latest technologies could be combined to create a robot existing unseen in a population as it spread terror. How would I best demonstrate this critter? Turn it loose in Philadelphia.

How could a character get involved emotionally in this critter? Make her family a victim? Too easy, plus there’s nothing to keep tension. The authorities could be contacted at any time to combat the critter with guns blazing. I prefer to write tight, claustrophobic stories.

Ah! The critter needs a friend who shares its motives, or who it can seduce into its motives. Which would make this less “The Terminator” and more “‘Short Circuit’ Meets ‘Rosemary’s Baby'”.

I needed someone who was suffering and faced huge social challenges. Not me.

Statistically, I needed woman from a racial minority. How should I attempt to write a young black woman in the U.S.?

The essays and comments I’ve read about Writing The Other fall within a spectrum. On one end, writers say “You cannot write outside of your experience capably. Do not try.” The other end: “Research as much as you can, then have the character vetted by a person sharing the traits of The Other, then use that finished story as the beginning of a dialogue with your reader, so that critiques become learning experiences.”

This other end is more reasonable. However, it does bring up a further perspective.

Every character in a story is supposed to be plausible and elicit sympathy. Even the ones who are just like the author.

Every individual outside your skin and not wearing your shoes is “The Other”.

Every character has fears. Every character has A Need (One Need per story). Every character has a rationalization that makes her the hero of her story.  No matter race, creed, preferences; the writing process makes every character into the Un-Author.

With this perspective, I began writing. I based the character loosely on a woman I knew. She had a cat, and pets are great foils and empathy-creators. She was educated and had been laid off from retail jobs. She was a reader of F & SF, which I used as the critter’s entre into her confidence. The critter used her yearning for a meaningful life to manipulate her into a quest against society. I included her tastes and preferences. I tweaked the character enough to suit the story’s needs, had the story vetted, then in a move that still unsettles me, I emailed the story to the woman.

It seemed the right thing to do. If she approved of the character, I must have done it right. The days of waiting for a response was unnerving. Had I offended her? Then I got her critique.

She was happy I kept the cat’s death off-page. Otherwise, she seemed content. Except she said, “This is a horror story? I thought she’d gone off and had adventures.”

I was startled. Then I realized I made the one big mistake: the story drove her instead of the other way around.

I rewrote and had the critter give her choices. Had her be more aware of what was going on, and knowing that she was in an ambiguous situation: was this a quest or some means of terrorism?

Does the story work? I got good critiques from my writers’ groups, but no one’s bought the story so far.

If this story gets published, I foresee getting mail from people taking issue with my writing someone who is not like me. Because the character is a woman and a minority in these tense times of the U.S., the mail may be confrontational.

I want to be a nice guy. I do not want to offend.

No level of research is going to be comprehensive. Not all criticisms are valid. In short, even if you get it right for the story, it will not be universally approved.

The best I can do is remember that no character should be taken for granted. Attention to details may not circumvent criticism, but it will make me more confident in all my choices.









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