7 Aug

The Suicidal Book Club: START HERE – Alan Moore

Posted by Bryan White | Tuesday August 7, 2012 | Suicidal Book Club

Lately, I’ve been devouring fiction. Where for a long time in these parts, I moaned about my woeful sublight pace of reading (in fact, very, very slow) this year I kicked off a new reading paradigm informed by author, Joe Hill. Pick 10 books. Read them in that order. Marry yourself to the list. Every time you clear one, add a new one behind it to the bottom of the list. Since January 1, my reading habits have turned around to such a point that really all I want to do these days is a crack a book and put my feet up. Add to that that I’m slated to be on Casey Criswell’s podcast, ‘Dad and His Weird Friends‘ to talk about Warren Ellis’ crazy-ass novella, ‘Crooked Little Vein’, I’ve finally put my own inferiority complex aside and began writing the novel I’ve had kicking around in my head since The Sword released ‘Age of Winters’ and I’ve been driving the folks at Book Riot fucking insane with pleas to be a contributor to their upcoming project, Start Here, a manual for folks interested in reading an author that they’ve always wanted to get into but having no idea where to start. I sent them a long-winded credit dump illustrating why they want me in their book but when it came to offering expertise in a particular author, all I could do was say that I was sweet on Philip K. Dick, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller and Alan Moore. Now they have a contest to grab contributors and raise the profile of their Kickstarter campaign and once again, I am making it known that I really want to be a part of this with this: my official entry on the work of my favorite comic writer of all time, Alan Moore. So here it is folks. Brace yourselves. I’m entering Book Riot’s START HERE Write-In Giveaway!

Begin sample chapter!

Until the 1980’s, the comic book was a medium that couldn’t grow up. It began as something that kids read much to the dismay of their parents and then, through the years, remained much as it had since its inception: Goofy dudes running around in tights, fighting colorful villains in equally garish tights. Just add sidekick. Many factors in The United States came along to chain comics down as a juvenile medium, namely The Comic’s Code Authority, but Europe didn’t have this problem. As American comic book publishers gently pushed boundaries, European publishers had a regular schedule of gritty adult books and this liberal creative license in the UK allowed a man like Alan Moore to come up in the framework of the American superhero comic, while injecting it with his own form of mature and sophisticated storytelling that The US had never seen before. Moore’s entry into the pantheon of DC Comics brought with it a sea change in the way comics were both written and read. Moore has an entire galaxy of challenging and exciting work out there but if you really want to dive in, you’re probably going to want to put books like Promethea and The Lost Girls aside until you’ve found your true Alan Moore gateway drug.

The Saga of the Swamp ThingSaga of the Swamp Thing
With his introduction to Swamp Thing, Moore was given free editorial rein to do whatever it is he wanted to do with the character. He grabbed this opportunity by the throat and ran wild with it, retconning the entire Swamp Thing canon. He took a corny horror comic and turned it into one of the most sophisticated literary horror comics to hit the presses. Its ripples can still be felt today and Moore’s work on the book from start to finish set the tone for further writers to take up the comic. Moore’s work, collected in trade paperbacks and a series of beautiful hardcovers, turns the book into a series of ironic horror shorts in the style of EC and Warren horror comics and bakes them into an ongoing narrative of spirituality, environmentalism and romance (no, really). The series peaks with the introduction of John Constantine, The Hellblazer, as he guides Swamp Thing through a series of paranormal encounters with ghosts, vampires and werewolves, culminating in an epic confrontation in Hell, the resolution being one of the most moving and amazing moments in the entire body of Alan Moore’s work.

V For VendettaV For Vendetta
Started in the British anthology comic, Warrior, V For Vendetta remained unfinished until the late 80’s when Moore had proven himself many times over as one of the most innovative writers in comics at the time. DC, his then-regular publisher colored the book and re-published the entire run, allowing Moore, after many years, to finally finish the story. V For Vendetta is set in a post-nuclear Great Britain where the vacuum of power allowed a fascist regime to take hold in England, placing the entire surviving population under its thumb and creating a corrupt ruling class. However, a nigh-unstoppable force rises to fight the fascists in the form of the ghost of their medical-experimentation past as a concentration camp escapee in a cape and Guy Fawkes mask assassinates key government officials and bombs government buildings with reckless abandon. Moore’s writing in this book is some his strongest and the setting is a reflection of his feelings about Margaret Thatcher’s England in the 80’s. It is impossible to read this and not find yourself in the shoes of V’s protege, Evey.

If you’re going to introduce someone to Alan Moore, Watchmen is a foregone conclusion. If the man were to be known for one book and one book only, it would be this one. In Watchmen, Moore pitches a story that deconstructs the entire notion of the superhero comic book and turns the medium on its ear as the line between hero and villain is blurred so significantly that you couldn’t even see it anymore. The result is a disturbing exploration of a real world where costumed crime fighters exist and how their status as vigilantes isolate them from the rest of us. It takes the typical model of the super hero as Greek god and brings them back down to Earth to become something more horribly recognizable and deeply flawed. In Watchmen, the world is approaching the brink of nuclear annihilation. Costumed heroes put the capes back on after a long absence to find the killer of one of their own and wind up uncovering a terrifying conspiracy with dire consequences. So impressive in scope is Watchmen that it would go on to become recognized as one of the most important comics of all time.

End sample chapter!

30 Dec

The Suicidal Book Club: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Posted by Bryan White | Friday December 30, 2011 | Suicidal Book Club

Ready Player One ReviewI know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Could it be? Do mine eyes deceiveth me? After a few months of sporadic updates are we actually getting two updates in one week?” If that’s not what you’re thinking, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of, “Honestly? Another fucking book report?” Just bear with me. I’ve been busy, for fuck’s sake! The holiday season will take the fight right out of you and what has felt an awful lot like Major Depression or at the very least Seasonal Affective Disorder has pretty much sapped my will to watch horror movies and there isn’t a whole hell of a lot that I’ve really given a shit about lately. Everything I watch has sucked except for the few TV shows that I’ve been keeping up with. Every time I try to write anything, I get a thousand words in and find that I hate every single one of them. Bummer, I know. I’ll cut the shit.

I was once interviewed by a writer from one of the local free papers about horror in literature and comics and the then-sudden resurgence in books and comics about zombies. Because I’m local horror blogger numero uno in New Hampshire, the conversation inevitably drifted toward my favorite horror novels because I’m such a strong local resource in matters such as these. I was confronted with a problem, however. With the exception of my eternal devotion to H.P. Lovecraft, I don’t really read much horror. My bag when it comes to books is science fiction. Truth be told, at the time I didn’t read much at all. When it comes to lit I’m easily distracted and my progress when reading is typically very slow so it’s very easy for me to throw my hands up and shake off the entire notion of reading, leaving me to feel like some kind of moron because I can’t seem to make it through four hundred measly pages. Then one night I find myself in the home office of author Joe Hill (Locke & Key, Horns) and he shows me ‘The Shelf of 10’, an OCD collection the next ten books he’s going to read and the next ten movies he’s going to watch. In order. At first it strikes me as a little weird and then it clears a bit and strikes me as the sort of thing a working author might need since free time is a valuable commodity when you’re as busy as a Bram Stokers award winning author but then it dawns on me. Maybe this is what I need. A little organization coupled with the same force of will it took to quit smoking to pick ten books I want to read in order and then marry myself to that list. I go on and on about it but there’s a thin line between a self-effacing sense of humor and an obnoxious line of self pity. So maybe I don’t need to be so down on my reading habits. I just need a code to follow. I quickly put together a list on Goodreads and got to work. I began with Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, a title that I’ve seen tossed around liberally in the Twitter feeds of Wil Wheaton, Cory Doctorow and Patton Oswalt. With some of my favorite nerd-culture gurus namechecking it, I figured I ought to knuckle down and check it out. I couldn’t have been happier with this decision. Kicking off my own personal Shelf of 10 got me off to a good start and gave me the momentum to roll into another title right away.

Such is the way with a lot of speculative fiction with a sci-fi bent, it’s the future and the future sucks a dick, man. Fuel shortages, staggering unemployment, rising crime and widespread poverty have made America a really terrible place to live. An MMORPG called OASIS was developed several decades back as a competitor to World of Warcraft and then evolved into a deeply immersive front end for the entire internet. So if you’d like to party up and raid a dungeon, you can do that but you can also go to school there and spend your day in a huge library called Wikipedia. The designer of OASIS is James Halliday, an amalgamation of Richard Garriot and Steve Jobs and as our story begins, Halliday has died and released his last will and testament to all users of OASIS promising his entire estate, hundreds of billions of dollars and the entire company behind OASIS to the one person who can find three keys that open three gates in OASIS, each hidden cleverly with a series of clues. Halliday, being devoted to 80’s pop culture, laces his quest with obscure and deeply nerdy references to 80’s music, movies, video games and role playing games. The OASIS community springs into action and for years, Egg Hunters search OASIS for the first key before giving up, leaving behind only the most dedicated of the Gunters. Key among these is Wade Watts, Parzival, a teenager living in the oppressive settings known as the Oklahoma City stacks, literally towering stacks of RVs. Watts devotes his life and every available neuron to memorizing the life and times of James Halliday and every piece of 80’s pop culture, significant or insignificant so that he can escape his dire situation and live a life of luxury. Like everyone, he spends all his time in OASIS and has befriended other Gunters in the quest for Halliday’s keys. After years of no results, Parzival finally makes a crucial connection and makes his way to the first key, tipping off Gunters everywhere and a race begins to find the other keys as Wade and his friends struggle against the Sixers, agents of a tyrannical ISP that wants the OASIS all for themselves, feeling as though Halliday and his company never took full advantage of OASIS’ financial potential.

Ready Player One is making the rounds on blogs and lit review sites everywhere, garnering praise for what is, essentially, VH1’s I Love The 80’s couched in classic cyberpunk conventions. It’s a clever bombardment of pop culture with plenty of explorations of The Net with a heaping dose of ‘jacking in’. Every single page is saturated with nods to old school video gaming, John Hughes movies, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Saturday morning cartoons, etc. I mean this shit is nonstop. From cover to cover, you’ll be overwhelmed with nostalgia and that’s sometimes the problem. Protagonist and his friends, are drawn up to be complete characters with compelling stories of their own taking pace in a dreary, nasty setting that’s as compelling as our main characters and their motivations but all of these positive qualities are constantly contending with Cline’s constantly winking eye and nudging elbows, trying to remind those of us who grew up in that bygone era of how cool things used to be and while I don’t necessarily disagree – being a kid in the 80’s fucking ruled – There’s a lot at play in Ready Player One and it’s constantly being drowned out by lengthy walks down memory lane with regards to the Atari 2600. This quality is not a deal breaker. Hardly, in fact. It’s just a bit tedious and because the book’s main trait becomes its constantly shifting pattern of nostalgia, the second act sags as the tragedy builds among a rising tide of Family Ties and Wargames references. I won’t lie, though, a sprawling homage and an entire gameworld devoted to Rush’s album 2112 brought a huge smile to my face.

Mildly negative criticism aside, though, Ready Player One is hard to put down once you get started. Few books have ever driven me as hard as this one and the fact that it’s so deftly written and swiftly plotted makes it easy to hurtle to the finish line, all the while dreading the inevitable conclusion. Cline’s characterization of the extremely resourceful and quick witted Wade Watts left me wanting to live in his collapsing world forever in spite of its fatal flaws. As long as it was possible to log in to a game where I could have a physical fight with Godzilla and pilot the Milennium Falcon around as my personal  mode of transportation, that is. Books don’t often make my heart race in anticipation nor do they often make me laugh out loud. The only other book to hold such titles is Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett.

Look, it’s a few days after Christmas and I’m sure you’re sitting there with at least one gift card to a major book retailer or there’s a local indie shop in your neighborhood that could use your cash. Why don’t you grace them with your patronage and ask the person at the counter for a copy of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. The nostalgia net is cast so incredibly wide that no nerd fetish escapes its gravity and if you’re reading this – and my analytics are correct – you’re probably just the right age for this book to properly tweak your 80’s nostalgia gland. It’s fast, it’s furious and it’s a lot of fun. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Take my fucking word for it.

28 Dec

The Suicidal Book Club: The Hammer Vault by Marcus Hearn

Posted by Bryan White | Wednesday December 28, 2011 | Suicidal Book Club

The Hammer Vault by Marcus HearnSo did you guys get anything crappy for Christmas? Come on. We’re all friends here. You can tell me and I promise I won’t tell your mom because if you did, I know exactly what you can exchange that shit for. You’re going to want to ditch whatever you don’t want in order to get your hands on a copy of Titan Books’ latest Hammer Films-related release, The Hammer Vault by Marcus Hearn. I try not to heap praise on products here as it sounds really fishy when I do. When anyone does, really. I’m so cynical and take so much pleasure in pointing out flaws that when I can’t help myself but gush about something, people start to suspect that I’ve been bought off. Not so, I assure you. It’s just that when something tickles my fancy, I mean really gets down to the erogenous zones and stimulates me without the distractions of qualities that I can be negatively critical of, I don’t quite know what to do with myself and begin with the awkward fondling of its finer qualities.

Titan Books is probably the outlet for all your Hammer needs and they’ve kicked out a series of books on the topic that have proven to be nothing less than authoritative. About this time last year, I put their title, The Art of Hammer to the test; a book collecting twenty years of movie posters and not much else and in spite of its minimalist approach to Hammer data, it was still the sort of thing that Hammer fans were going to want kicking around. The Hammer Vault takes that premise and kicks it up a notch. Though, I sense that this line of fan service has just about been mined of all its value with this release, The Hammer Vault is still an excellent coffee table book that delivers insight and entertainment.

Zeppelin vs. PterodactylsThe Hammer Vault is a presentation of noteworthy Hammer releases, beginning with The Quatermass Experiment, and the marketing materials that were used to sell theaters on bookings and tickets at the box office. In many cases you see the original marketing brochures, posters used in pre-sales, original script pages, promotional photography and cadids, etc. Like previous Hammer books from Titan, this thing is exhaustive! Titan’s resident Hammer author, Marcus Hearn leaves no stone unturned and those of you horror fans out there with a yen for British vampires and the stately gentlemen who hunt them, you’ll appreciate the staggering depths that Hearn goes to to report on the history of one of the United Kingdom’s most important film institutions. Where The Hammer Vault takes a detour from The Art Of Hammer, which I keep comparing to it to for some reason, is that Hearn this time actually delivers some anecdote and written word to give these press materials some context and it’s all quite interesting. For instance, going back to Quatermass, I’d always wondered why they cast a bullish American in the role of a character who was clearly intended to be a British dude. Brian Donlevy always struck me as particularly wooden and as it would happen, Quatermass series creator, Nigel Kneale, felt the same way. See? Learning is fun! Thanks, Titan Books!

This being a product based on a particularly specific niche, it should come as no surprise that its potential audience is a little on the narrow side. If you’re as excited about this book as I am, it means that you’re in the club and Hammer horror is your bag, if not you’re probably not even reading this and chucking down the coin required for just such a hardcover treasure isn’t really in your future. I’m hoping, though, that Titan Books isn’t on your radar and that as a fan of Hammer Films, I’m shedding some light on a vast archive of nerd culture data that’ll get your heart racing. The Hammer Vault is, in fact, all that and a bowl of grits and pretty much another feather in Titan Books’ cap. This company is unstoppable, I tell you! I look forward to another Hammer item in 2012.

18 Aug

The Suicidal Book Club: The Ultimate Guide To Martial Arts Movies of the 1970’s by Dr. Craig D. Reid

Posted by Bryan White | Thursday August 18, 2011 | Suicidal Book Club

The Ultimate Guide To Martial Arts Movies of the 1970sBelieve it or not, before I was even a horror movie fan, I was a martial arts fan. My mom was a long time fan of the show Kung Fu. You know, the one starring the late David Carradine? She loved kung fu movies, too and while it was tough for me to convince her that sitting through a gory horror movie was a good idea when I was 8 years old, martial arts flew without incident. So before I’d even been acquainted with Jason Voorhees, Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Gordon Liu and Sonny Chiba were my homeboys. Locally we had WLVI’s locally legendary horror show, The Creature Double Feature, which I watched but I went positively apeshit when I switched over to WSBK and saw their version of Black Belt Theater running whatever badly dubbed chop socky flick they’d dug out of the vault that day. The balance would eventually shift between horror and martial arts but a good kung fu flick is always a cherished thing to me.

As I came of age in the video trading days of the 90’s where a 1:1 swap of a VHS dupe would land all manner of exotic video esoterica in my mailbox, no book was more valuable to me than Michael J. Weldon’s book, The Psychotronic Video Guide. It was a massive, heavy tome the size of the Manhattan phone book and included an alphabetical list of horror movies, post-nukes, nudie-cuties, mondos and whatever other skeezy scumbag entertainment had ever found its way to VHS back in the day. Thanks to that book, I amassed a mighty collection of videotapes and discovered some genuine gold hidden in the low frequency piles of VHS dog shit that occupied the shelves of my local video rental store. Dr. Craig D. Reid’s ambitiously titled reference guid, The Ultimate Guide To Martial Arts Movies of the 1970’s reminds me of Weldon’s aforementioned sleazy video bible in a big way, the only exception being that its scope is focused strictly on martial arts movies.

Upon first inspection, this large format reference book appears to be dedicated to Asian martial arts movies and it’s not a faulty assumption to make. After all, the 1970’s is when kung fu movies came alive. Bruce Lee jammed onto the scene and revolutionized the way movies were made in Hong Kong overnight so every Asian country with an economy that could support a movie studio sprung to life and cranked out flick after flick of chop socky goodness (or badness, or good badness, for that matter). However, if it’s at all a martial arts movie, it’s covered here. This includes a generous review of the Dolemite sequel, The Human Tornado. Cover to cover, The Ultimate Guide is an A to Z set of reviews of martial arts movies from around the world. Some you’ve heard of many you have not. The reviews are exceedingly well written and concise and offer a bit of insight into the importance of these films even in a series of 400 to 500 word reviews. It’s actually quite amazing. What’s more, fans of actual martial arts will notice Reid’s familiarity with the various arts on display in the movie and this quality is something often left out of similar reference guides. Nowhere else would a review of The Human Tornado ever let you know that you’ll find some Tang Soo Do (sort of a Korean slant on Karate) in there. Most of the time they’re just going to zero in on that weird-ass workout machine sex scene or the ridiculous fight scenes where Moore makes a whole lot of weird ass noises.

This is the sort of book that you’re going to have next to the computer at all times when you want to buy a new disc. Open the book. Turn to a random page. Close your eyes and point. You will find that movie if the review  makes it sound like the sort of thing you’d like to see. This being The Ultimate Guide, however, it’s not a love letter to martial arts through and through. This is a comprehensive listing of titles made in the 1970’s and Reid makes sure to let you know when a dog’s a dog. It is loaded with righteous, entertaining and thorough reviews that take into considerations trends of the times, casting, the actual martial arts and other nuances of martial arts cinema making this book worthy of its title, The Ultimate Guide To Martial Arts Movies of the 1970’s. It’s a mouth full, but god damn! This book may, in fact, be the final word on the topic.

7 Jul

The Suicidal Book Club: Shock Value by Jason Zinoman

Posted by Bryan White | Thursday July 7, 2011 | Suicidal Book Club

Shock Value by Jason ZinomanTruth is stranger than fiction as the old saying goes and because of this I have a much easier time reading non-fiction than I do fiction. I don’t know why that is. I’m just not much of a reader as much as I’d like that to be the contrary. I enjoy the act of reading and I thrive on science fiction novels but there is just something about sitting down with a book that puts me to sleep. Every time. It doesn’t matter where I am. I’ll turn five pages before I start to feel the nod coming on. It’s brutal and it means that reading any book of any length becomes a major investment of time since a book that’ll take my wife a week to read will take me a month or more. It’s become a bit of a household joke, as a matter of fact, whenever I crack a new one. My follow through with books is notoriously poor. What’s worse is that I have dozens of literary minded friends who feel compelled to foist piles of their favorite novels on me, each insisting that I read them, and when I inform them that I have a stack of books to read that is as high as my movie review pile, they don’t seem to care. That is until six months later when they start to ask me if they’ll ever get their Scalzi books back. So when I found a copy of Jason Zinoman’s non-fiction love letter to the budding horror movie paradigm of the 1970’s, I couldn’t have been happier. Here was a book that I would be able to kick up my feet with and end the day on high note with a book that I could actually finish in reasonable time.

If you’re reading this then there’s a good chance that you meet my target demographic. You’re a horror movie fanatic. You probably came here from some kind of related search engine query and you’re probably of above average intellect with an obsessive streak for the things that you love. It’s just another profile of your average Cinema Suicide reader. Pat yourself on the back. Go on. You probably also know at least a little bit about the late 60’s and the 70’s and that era’s relation to an entirely new, insurgent approach to cinema that revolutionized Hollywood from top to bottom. You know that Martin Scorcese, Stephen Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola blew industry conventions out of the water. You may also be aware that Wes Craven, George Romero, Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter came along at the same time and thrust the much maligned horror film back into box office respectability and with some help from studio blockbusters like Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist, they managed to turn a genre once imprisoned in drive-ins and matinees into a major Hollywood force that critics hated but cinema patrons loved. Shock Value by New York Times critic, theater reporter and all-around journalistic gun-for-hire, Jason Zinoman, explores this concept in depth to a narrative degree that you and I could only once dream of.

See, there’s a documentary that’s been out for some time called The American Nightmare, which explores the concept of horror in the 70’s and the renegade film school maniacs who brought it out of its schlocky prison and forced it into the post-Vietnam public eye and just about everyone who cares to have seen it has seen it at this point. It’s a killer doc but at regular feature film length, it only begins to scratch the surface of an absolutely remarkable period in the world of film. Shock Value, for veterans and newcomers alike, explores this same ground but in much greater depth, taking care to include examinations of Roman Polanski, William Friedkin and Brian De Palma, three major forces of the genre who seem to blend into the genre tapestry whereas the forces of indie tend to hog the spotlight. Zinoman’s text also takes care to address the pre-history of the genre as we know it in terms of William Castle, Vincent Price and Alfred Hitchcock and how their various contributions to the genre were its greatest roadblock going through the 60’s as the tensions of our real-life world made their schlocky classics (well, maybe not Hitchcock’s) look like a stroll through your local garage haunted house. Subject matter aside, an absolute home run and a topic I never tire of researching, Zinoman tells the story of the horror movie and the personalities who made the powerhouse that it was soon to become in such a compelling fashion that it’s nearly impossible to put down. Shock Value is absolutely crammed with trivia about the productions of your favorite horror movies and directors that you may not have known. For instance, are you aware that John Carpenter is an Oscar winner? No shit. Seriously!

Shock Value adds a tremendous amount of valuable context to an era and a genre to give any reader insight into why the films that we love are so incredibly powerful. Sure, they’re great movies when viewed out of context but with just a little bit of background about the time they were made and who the people were who made them, these classics become true towering legends of the genre. From cover to cover, Shock Value is massively informative and an absolute blast to read. I’m not usually the type prone to hyperbole but you have to take my word for it. No self respecting fan of horror should go without a copy of Shock Value.

Order a copy of Shock Value now!

3 Dec

The Suicidal Book Club: The Art of Hammer by Marcus Hearn

Posted by Bryan White | Friday December 3, 2010 | Suicidal Book Club

The Art of HammerBook reviews can be hard. Writing about movies is a breeze but when you have to take hundreds of pages of plot and sift out the finer points for recommendation and the points for criticism, it can be a real chore since reading a book can be a really inconsistent investment of your time. Movies are freakin’ simple when all you have to do is remember that 90 minutes of your life and tell people what you thought worked and didn’t work. Now consider reviewing a book that is little more than hundreds of pages of pictures and nothing more. You see my dilemma.

The Art of Hammer by Marcus Hearn is just such a book. With a brief introduction into the art-department and marketing practices of Hammer Films, that wonderful and distinctly British institution of exploitation, there’s not much else to read. Fundamentally, it’s a book collecting the many posters that graced theater walls between the 50’s and the 70’s when Hammer reigned supreme in the world of gothic horror. That’s it. Going into this, you’re either going to be a fan of Hammer Films already or you’re a fan of movie art. There’s a definite venn diagram there and if you don’t fall within those spheres, chances are this is a coffee table book that you’re going to pass on but if you qualify, you’re going to end up with a treasury of gorgeous movie art.

Separated into the various eras of Hammer’s existence, there’s a definite theory and philosophy at work in the ways that Hammer chose to advertise their movies. While the book doesn’t highlight the early years of the Hammer institution, it begins on the upswing of the studio’s prominence and the often understated artwork grows in confidence and complexity over the years, into its halcyon days but then manages to remain relevant and interesting even as the studio was on the decline. Movie art is often the most key ingredient to securing funds to make the movies as well as drawing people in to buy tickets to the shows. What begins with photo collages and posters inspired by the works of Saul Bass eventually give way to bold illustrations that are reflected in the work of some of Hollywood’s hottest artists, such as Drew Struzan. The presentation of these posters is sparse as each page shows between one and three posters but the make up of the book is high quality and is the sort of thing that movie and horror fans are going to want found lying around in their living rooms. The Art of Hammer is a lush production loaded with hundreds of posters, some very familiar, many extremely rare.

Titan Books is turning out some of the most exciting and engaging books on the topic of Hammer Horror. With biographical The Hammer Story and the profile of Hammer’s legendary femme-fatales, Hammer Glamour, there’s no finer outlet for all things Hammer. The Art of Hammer adds to this collection of Hammer info and while it doesn’t add much in the raw data department, it’s a beautiful, high-quality archive of the marketing that Hammer used to get people to spend money on them.

5 Feb

The Suicidal Book Club: The Dead by Mark E. Rogers

Posted by Bryan White | Friday February 5, 2010 | Suicidal Book Club

Imagine my confusion for a moment. The solicitation for review copies of The Dead by Mark E. Rogers looked, upon first inspection, like a comic book. I took one look at that cover and was sold. I’m always up for zombie horror, particularly indie zombie horror when it sports sweet artwork like that. Then the book arrived. It’s a novel. No matter. I’m’a read this bitch anyway. It took me some time as novels tend to do. Book reviews are hard business when you’re the world’s slowest reader but I got around to it. The confusion didn’t end with the format, though.

In Mark Rogers’ The Dead, family and acquaintances of the Holland clan turn out to the Jersey Shore for the funeral of the family patron. As this is happening, the dead begin to rise and in a hurry, the reanimated corpses all around the world commit overnight genocide, either tearing the living limb from limb or going through the paces to make the living part of the dead army. The surviving members of the Hollands, armed with a few guns and deeply conflicting views on spirituality, will spend the next few nights of the apocalypse running from basement, to sewer to storm cellar in an attempt to outrun the dead and find a safe haven but as the plot progresses through a series of intensely violent zombie encounters, it doesn’t look like they’re going to find one in the conventional sense any time soon.

The Dead isn’t your average zombie novel. As a matter of fact, for fans like me, tired of the usual shoot ’em in the head antics that lift every move from Romero zombie movies, Rogers’ novel is a breath of fresh air. These aren’t exactly zombies as they don’t behave in the mindless shambling way of established undead eating machines. These are razor sharp hordes of killers that are impeccably fast, horrifically strong and completely unstoppable. A bullet to the head does not put these things down. Decapitation doesn’t even stop them. Mutilate these corpses all you like, they’re going to kill you sooner or later. The twist doesn’t end there, though. The dead don’t rise because of a virus or because of radiation. Understand this: Mark Rogers’ dead rise because it’s The Fucking Rapture! You’d better believe it. This is a Christian apocalypse novel in the vein of, say, Left Behind (though a brief note from Rogers claims that he wrote first draft of this novel in the early 80’s, way ahead of Tim LaHaye). I was at first put off by this quality of the novel. I have a severe allergic reaction to that Old Time Religion and believe you me, this is about as Catholic as the end of the world gets. However, Rogers’ writing is a cut above the rest. He is, in fact, a very good writer and The Dead is a compelling read if I’ve ever seen one.

Early establishment of character is the books strongest suit. Though nearly every major player represents some facet of spirituality, everyone is textured enough to make them more than just some archetype to pit against the other archetypes. The cast is a bit overwhelming and as the pace builds, this person or that is easily confused with others. Our setting and circumstances are also engaging and easy to step into. The Rapture starts slowly and then explodes into a horrific wave of death. From here on out it’s action, action, action and it’s practically nonstop. Nonstop, that is to say, apart from the punctuating passages where everyone hunkers down to discuss the end of the world and their faith (or lackthereof) in deep theophilosophical discussions. Each side presents cogent arguments in favor of their particular bent but putting myself in their shoes, the moment one of my survivor comrades pipes up about his personal lord and savior in the middle of a zombie invasion, he’s getting a slap in the mouth for a serious fault in his priorities.

The Dead falters in the second half of the novel as our massive cast of characters spend most of the time watching the carnage around them while having animated discussions about God and Armageddon. These portions drag on endlessly but the third act unfolds in the same compelling method as the first act and it’s tough to put down. Though the theological angle of The Dead is hamfisted, it’s directly Christian message is in stark contrast of it’s vivid descriptions of zombie on human violence. Rogers, for all his apparent faith, loves to tell you, the reader, in grotesque detail exactly how these humans are dying. It makes for some serious cognitive dissonance.

Apart from an unwieldy and wildly unexpected Christian message and some seriously long drag-on moments that act as nothing but filler, The Dead by Mark E. Rogers, is a surprising entry for fans of zombies and apocalyptic fiction.

28 Dec

The Suicidal Book Club: Misery Obscura – The Photography of Eerie Von

Posted by Bryan White | Monday December 28, 2009 | Suicidal Book Club

Like most guys my age in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I discovered The Misfits through the usual channel: Metallica. They had this EP out that was all covers and on it they did Last Caress and Green Hell (an interesting juxtaposition of a track from their first studio full length and a track from their last studio full length). I asked the punk kid who sat in front of me in Algebra if he knew who The Misfits were and the following day he sent me home with a copy of Walk Among Us. From the very beginning of 20 Eyes, Suicidal Tendencies had been unseated as my favorite band and The Misfits have sat on that grim throne ever since. I’ll consume anything with The Crimson Ghost on it, that is everything except for these new Jerry Only albums because I happen to think that they suck a dog’s cock but everything having to do with that golden Glenn Danzig period is something special to me. I’ve processed the volumes of information on Mark Kennedy’s exhaustive biographical site of all things Misfits, Misfits Central, and I thought that I had all the data in my noodle. While my knowledge of The Misfits/Samhain/Danzig might be described with such titanic words as voluminous, encyclopedic and complete I was missing the finer details that can only fill the gaps by a series of anecdotes and photos from someone who was both there and a trustworthy source. There is no finer subject for this kind of information than Eerie Von, Doyle Caiafa’s wingman and Lodi, New Jersey icon who managed to infiltrate that ghoulish horrorpunk scene and remain a pivotal copilot during Glenn Danzig’s ascent to metal greatness.

Though Eerie Von’s tome is meant to be a coffee table style book of his outstanding photography of The Misfits during their last couple of years to the transformation of Samhain into Danzig, Misery Obscura is also a bit of a document similar to my other favorite punk rock memoir, Henry Rollins’ collection of photos and journal entries covering his six year stint as Black Flag’s longest running screamer, Get In The Van. It’s a series of exciting photography capturing the chaotic moments of one of punk rock’s most original and vital acts in their most propulsive element, the stage. Though The Misfits look great in these photos, anyone who has seen those live bootlegs from The Channel in Boston and that Michigan public access show can attest, Evilive, as marginally listenable as it is, is actually a fluke as most Misfits live engagements seem to be godawful exercises in public performance. Among Eerie Von’s fantastic stage shots and candid photos that have never been seen until this time, are stories filling in the background of a band that is nothing short of legendary. He keeps mum on the circumstances surrounding the acrimonious breakup of the band and the succession of Samhain but those with a good understanding of the band will get a good idea of what actually happened in that time. It also humanizes the band. Glenn Danzig has done a tremendous job of selling himself as an incredibly intimidating and threatening pesonality in rock but Von’s stories of Danzig, a man he clearly grew to idolize and remained loyal to to a fault, paint a picture of a reasonably nice guy with a wicked sense of humor and tendency to fuck around.

However, the photography takes a hit as Eerie Von goes from Misfits photographer to drummer, then bass player for Samhain and other people begin taking over as band photographer. Von’s stories of being in the band help chronicle the evolution of horror rock but his personal touch and eye for photography is gone. Continuing through the days where Rick Rubin became involved and transformed the group, the stories stay tight but going into the Danzig days, Von rushes the tale and his stories become a catalog of “we played here and there and hung out with Metallica…” until his final exit from the group following the departures of Chuck Biscuits and John Christ. Maybe it’s a translation of what it’s like to go from the DIY ethic of the early punk scene to the upper tiers of rock stardom, the final act of Eerie Von’s book is a little stale as excitement of his teenage years in a fledgling punk scene gives way to a series of boring tales of being on the road with huge touring bands but the ride from start to finish is compelling and aided by pages upon pages of inspiring photography that puts the Lodi punk scene in its own place on the punk rock timeline, a punk scene that embraced theatricality and infused the glam of rock and roll in the 70’s with the cheesy vibe of a saturday afternoon horror matinee.

Misery Obscura is out now from Dark Horse Books and comes to you with the official Cinema Suicide seal of approval. Get your copy now!

22 Nov

The Suicidal Book Club: Badass by Ben Thompson

Posted by Bryan White | Sunday November 22, 2009 | Suicidal Book Club

ben thompson badassWhen I first got the offer to review the book Badass: A Relentless Onslaught of the Toughest Warlords, Vikings, Samurai, Pirates, Gunfighters, and Military Commanders to Ever Live by Ben Thompson, I thought it was going to be about Melvin Van Peebles or Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song or blaxploitation in general but it turns out that it’s a sort of expansion of Ben Thompson’s website, Badass of the Week, wherein he profiles somone from history whose drive for domination or their particular artistry when it comes to mayhem makes them stand out somehow. What sets this book apart from other catalogs or a trip to Wikipedia is that it’s history filtered through the sensibility of a 15 year old whose entire worldview is colored by online gaming, the Something Awful Forums and bargain bin energy drinks whose buzz is measured in cups, rather than tablespoons, of sugar. Meanwhile, this same hypothetical 15 year old somehow managed to work out the credits to earn a Master’s degree in historical minutiae.

Thompson, who graduated cum laude from Florida State University with degrees in history and political science recounts, chronologically, the more interesting parts of the lives of conquerors and warriors. Badass is a series of nutshell descriptions of the lives of people ranging from the well-known, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan and Alexander The Great to people you may have missed like Liu Ji (hard partying Chinese bandit who organized the oppressed poor and ushered in the Han Dynasty), Mary Read (the baddest girl to sail the Carribean, jacking lewtz from anything that looked remotely like a boat) and Peter Francisco (A force of nature that demolished British solders during the Revolutionary war with a 5-foot broadsword, dubbed a one-man army by George Washington).

To call Thompson’s writing energetic is grossly understating the point. Animated is the better word. Though he’s simply telling you some non-fictional stories about things that actually happened and people that actually lived,  much of it is almost too good to be true and his means of telling you, including a preoccupation with people getting punched in the face and having their nutsacks torn, is a compelling means of turning pages. History can  be a tough pill to swallow when presented through the clinical presentation of a high school text book but were you to pepper your classsroom lectures with references to Starcraft and refer to Leonidas and the 300 Spartans’ stand at Thermopylae as pwnage and you might keep the attention of an overstimulated room full of teenagers. High points include quotes about the condition of lodgings after Peter I of Russia split town with his entourage (They drank. A lot. Unsurprisingly, Peter died from liver failure in his 50’s.) and Julius Caesar capping off his influence over Egypt by slam drunking the hell out of a basketball, something he certainly had never done but it drives the point home just how bad Caesar was and precisely how aware of this status he was. On the downside, Thompson’s gag is fairly repetitive and by the middle ages, hearing about some great historical conqueror punching the faces in of all who oppose him gets tiresome but the pace tightens again and the jokes eventually become fresh and you wind up learning something in the process.

Badass by Ben Thompson reads like a history book written by Robert Hamburger, the fictional personality behind the Official Ninja Website, aka Real Ultimate Power. Be prepared to bask in absolutes such a ‘totally sweet’ and ‘righteous’. Discount claims about historical personalities flipping out and playing bitchin’ guitar solos from tops of mountains because they didn’t do that, but they did subjugate entire cultures of people and shape the landscape as we know it. Thompson flavors every second of badass history with Frank’s Red Hot and Monster Energy. It’s a compelling read that you could probably burn through in an entire afternoon. This is the book you were missing out on when none of you entered the Badass book giveaway. Dicks.

25 Oct

The Suicidal Book Club: Dracula The Un-Dead

Posted by Bryan White | Sunday October 25, 2009 | Suicidal Book Club

dracula, the un-deadMaybe some ideas are best left in the grave. Dracula: The Un-Dead hit the horror wire a few months ago with a fair bit of hype. The reasons for this are that the book  was based on notes from Bram Stoker, himself. They were a series of unused plot points and concepts that didn’t wind up in his original Dracula manuscript. The other piece of the hype puzzle was that it was to be written by Dacre Stoker, a distant relative of Bram. The good news is that two thirds of the book work. The bad news is that the remaining third practically ruins everything.

Dracula: The Un-Dead is a sequel to the original Bram Stoker classic, Dracula. It picks up twenty five years after the first novel and all is not well for everyone. Jack Seward is a morphine addict whose life was ruined by the horror of Dracula. Quincy Harker, the son of Johnathan and Mina ditches his law school studies for the stage and finds his way to a production of Dracula being put on by Bram Stoker. Van Helsing and The Harkers are also still in the picture but someone is on the prowl and they’re hunting down the people who killed Dracula.

Stoker’s writing, Dacre, that is, is better than I expected it to be. He’s adequately descriptive and writes good dialog. Everything culled from the original Stoker’s notes is top notch and handled well and even the angle of Bram Stoker in the sequel to his novel, a very fan fictionish approach to writing, is balanced and without a hint of awkwardness. Dacre Stoker manages to take Bram Stoker’s ideas that he tossed out of Dracula, works in some of Bram’s own history and the story of Sir Henry Irving but then it all falls apart when it becomes clear that Stoker’s notes didn’t paint a complete picture. The even handed gothic horror approach stops being a reflection of the Count Dracula legacy and the work of Hammer Films and looks something more like the Underworld movies or The Matrix. There are wild, deeply stupid plot twists, hyper descriptive martial arts fight scenes and page after page of nauseating dialog. Cracks begin to show in what looks like a solid plot and the entire story unravels before your disbelieving eyes.

It was a good idea, I suppose, but Dracula: The Un-Dead smacks of novelty. A book that was picked up because of the Stoker family tree, the vogue status of vampires these days and what was probably perceived as a strong manuscript. But did anyone at Penguin actually finish the book before they agreed to publish it?

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