Tread Carefully…

I got an e-mail from a fan who wants to know my favorite movie in the EVIL DEAD trilogy. This is a subject that requires careful thought, because I believe my entire life will be judged based on my response.

Those Norwegians Know Their Slashers!

So I’m not sure if I’m a slasher movie fan anymore or not. I like to think I am, but I recently saw a preview for a horror movie called SORORITY ROW, and I thought “Hey, this looks pretty good!”, and then suddenly it revealed itself as a slasher flick and I thought “Aw, man,” and was bummed. Maybe I’m just not into shameless rip-offs of I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER. 

Now I have to google SORORITY ROW, because it’s probably a remake of some 80’s slasher movie and I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER is the shameless rip-off…

Wow. Remake of HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW. Never saw that one. Good thing I checked or I would’ve looked like quite the ignoramus. What kind of sad world do we live in where I feel the need to google a new movie to make sure it’s not a remake before declaring it a rip-off?

Anyway, the actual point of this blog is that last night I saw COLD PREY, a subtitled Norwegian slasher flick, and loved it. If you like slasher films, this one absolutely rocks. If you don’t like slasher films, it’s subtitled, so you can feel all cultural and stuff while you watch it. It’s extremely well-shot, suspenseful, scary, and it’s a film where you root for the characters to survive, not get killed. (Subversive stuff!)

On a five-star scale, where I’m comparing it to other slasher films and not, say, WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, I give COLD PREY five stars out of five.

ROT!

More zombie stuff, this time a novella by Michele Lee called ROT, sent to me by the friendly but totally depraved folks at Skullvines Press. I assumed that ROT was a horror/comedy, since that’s the kind of Skullvines stuff I’ve read (TWISTED TALES FOR SICK PUPPIES by Mark McLaughlin, I WAS A SASQUATCH SEX SLAVE by Jerrod Balzer and S.D. Hintz, and SLOPPY SECONDS, a collection of gross-out stories by Wrath James White). The opening of ROT seemed to confirm this…but though the book does have some morbid laughs in it, it’s definitely not a humorous tale.

This one falls into the category of “the less you know about it, the better,” so all I’ll say plot-wise is that it’s about a security guard at what is sort of a nursing-care facility for zombies, where the undead are checked in by loved ones and stay until they’ve rotted away. You wouldn’t think that such a business could have a darker side, but…

ROT is a definite winner. It’s well-written, has lots of plot twists, characters we care about, and it strikes more emotional chords than you’d probably expect in a novella about flesh-eating zombies. And though I said it’s not a comedy, it does have the following line:

“It wasn’t unlike watching someone bite into a large tomato, if a tomato had bones and screamed.”

This one’s set for July or August from Skullvines Press (though it’s not on the site yet). Watch for it.

The Gayest Zombie Film I’ve Ever Seen!

Last night, the Tampa Bay International Gay & Lesbian Film Festival was playing a zombie flick: OTTO; OR, UP WITH DEAD PEOPLE. Not just a zombie flick, but a gay shot-on-video zombie flick from Germany, which is not something I’m gonna see at my local AMC Theatre, so of course I had to check it out.

It’s a very, very weird movie. Otto digs his way out of his grave and wanders around until a filmmaker casts him in her zombie movie UP WITH DEAD PEOPLE, which is about a world overrun by homosexual zombies. We get clips from the film-within-a-film throughout the movie, along with flashbacks to Otto’s previous life, along with a healthy dose of surrealism. Some of this material is very clever, such as one character who is out of a silent movie (she appears in grainy black-and-white and all of her dialogue is in title cards) and has a lengthy conversation with her sound-equipped, full-color girlfriend. 

Unfortunately, the characters are mostly inaccessible. Otto the Zombie behaves like…well, a zombie. It’s kind of hard to empathize with a character who is all blank stares and monotone dialogue and whose first big scene involves picking up a roadkill rabbit and munching on its squished guts. (I assume the actor wasn’t eating real guts, but it DOES look like a real rabbit. Ew.) The film-within-a-film-filmmaker’s insanely pretentious attitude is amusing, but again, you can’t really relate to her as a real character, so the whole movie is very distancing.

The audience seemed to be 1% there for the zombie stuff, 99% there because it was a gay-themed movie. The movie does indeed have lots of nekkid men rolling around, and one moment that I never expected to see captured on video and projected in front of an audience. It involves a man who, thanks to a dining zombie, is missing part of his stomach, leaving an…uh, opening, and so the frisky zombie is utilizingthe opening. We see this in graphic enough detail to witness that the actor is indeed at full attention, and is indeed going at it with some phony guts. One desperately hopes that it was challenging for the actor to remain excited, and that they had to get the whole thing in one quick take.

The film tries for some social commentary, equating hostile treatment of zombies to hostile treatment of homosexuals, but the metaphor doesn’t really work unless you assume that gay people stumble around with blank stares and rotting flesh and devour dead animals, which I believe to be inaccurate.  

Anyway, it’s hard to give OTTO  a full endorsement, but it IS unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

Stoker Awards Weekend: Part Three

SPOILER WARNING: I didn’t win a Stoker.

On Saturday morning, I finally ran into Don D’Auria, my editor at Leisure, and we made plans for a quick chat in-between his pitch sessions. Then at 10:00 AM I did my reading, which consisted of two excerpts from BENJAMIN’S PARASITE (the scene with the experimental cow going on a rampage, and the scene with Benjamin being given ever-so-disturbing news by the doctor) and one from THE SEVERED NOSE (involving a severed…toe).

During Don’s free moment, we sat down and he explained that my novel PRESSURE was bankrupting the company. He cried for a while while I squirmed uncomfortably in my chair. Then, without warning, his expression transformed into pure rage, and he lunged at me, fingers curled into claws, reaching for my eyes. It took three people to subdue him. “I’ll destroy you!” he screamed as they dragged him away. “I’ll ruin you the way you’ve ruined me! This isn’t over, Strand!”

Actually, we talked about the cover for my next Leisure novel, DWELLER (March 2010 at bookstores everywhere!), and some other cool stuff, which I won’t share here because if it doesn’t work out I don’t want people saying “Hey, Jeff, whatever happened with [Insert Cool Possibility Here] that you shared on your blog?” because that would be awkward.

At noon, I went to watch the “Marketing Tips for a Recession” panel, with Lynne Hansen, Nanci Kalanta, Matt Schwartz, Del Howison, and Deborah LeBlanc, which was a darn good panel chock full o’ handy tips that I’m going to greedily hoard for myself.

Lynne and I went to a Greek restaurant for lunch with Greg Lamberson and Rue Morgue’s Monika Kuebler, where I had fluorescent yellow chicken kabobs, and then returned for our official booksigning in the dealer’s room.  (Side note: I’d gotten to sign quite a few books over the weekend, and it’s always amusing to me when people say “Sorry to bother you” before asking me to sign something. You’re sooooooooo not bothering me. It’s hard to quantify how little you’re bothering me with that request.)

After the official signing ended, I sat down at a table and went to work on the signature sheets for THE SEVERED NOSE. Alan Rodgers came over and said hi. Holy crap, I hadn’t seen him since World Horror Convention 1995!

Then I got into my tuxedo, decided that all of my Stokers material sucked, and headed downstairs. My pre-show process for emceeing an awards ceremony is to wander around trying not to throw up, so I continued that fine tradition until the ceremony began. I sat at the front table with HWA Prez Deb LeBlanc, future Stoker winner Lisa Morton, future Silver Hammer Award winner Sephera Giron, and future Stoker winner and future Richard Laymon Award winner John Little.

There was supposed to be a live online feed of the ceremony, but there were technical difficulties. Fortunately, Feo Amante taped the entire thing, so you can see all of the glorious moments, including fake from-the-stage Tweeting, because you know you love to watch fake from-the-stage Tweeting. 

The fact that I was a Bram Stoker Award finalist (GLEEFULLY MACABRE TALES was up for Best Fiction Collection) was completely overshadowed by being master of ceremonies, and even while the presenters were reading the names in my category I was busy arranging some papers to use in a joke if I lost. The award went to Stephen King’s collection JUST AFTER SUNSET, so I did indeed get to use my “losing” joke.

With the Stokers over, I ditched the tuxedo jacket and headed over to the WHC 2010 party (the convention is gonna be in Brighton, England!) where Greg Lamberson, Nate Kenyon, Joel Sutherland, Bill Breedlove, and I shared the joy of being Bram Stoker Award LOSERS!!! I’m not sure what the conversations amongst the winners are like, but I guarantee you that the losers’ are more entertaining.

Ellen Datlow was very complimentary, which was very cool. 

Sunday was mostly comprised of “Nooo! It can’t be over! Come back, Stoker Awards Weekend, come back!” and a very long flight back to Tampa. Scott Edelman was also at the airport, but he accepted an offer to get bumped from his flight in exchange for a free ticket, and happily returned to the hotel to squeeze another day out of the experience.

It’s now Friday. My brain is still sizzled. That’s what a really good convention will do to you. Thanks to everybody who put in eight billion hours of work to make it a success.

Next weekend, I’m off to Seton Hill University!

Stoker Awards Weekend: Part Two

Friday morning, the official Bram Stoker Awards weekend began. We registered, got our precious goodie bags, and then hung out in the lobby for a while. John Little and Lisa Morton, who’d organized the weekend and were rightfully worshipped by all, seemed remarkably sane. Greg Lamberson also looked remarkably sane, considering that he was up for two Stokers (for Best Non-Fiction and Best Novel), was three weeks away from shooting a feature film, and was there with his adorable and veryveryvery energetic three-year-old daughter.

At noon, I hosted the Opening Ceremonies, which basically just involved welcoming everybody and introducing the Guests of Honor. I wanted to point out in my introduction that Guest of Honor Richard Christian Matheson had written for B.J. AND THE BEAR, but decided against it because I don’t know Richard Christian Matheson’s opinion of B.J. AND THE BEAR and I didn’t want him to beat me up. (He didn’t actually show up for the opening ceremonies, but he could’ve beaten me up later.) Other guests included legendary author John Farris, artist Harry O. Morris, HWA Lifetime Achievement Award winners F. Paul Wilson and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Tor editor David Hartwell, Bloodletting Press dictator Larry Roberts, and filmmaker Mick Garris (whose mini-series adaptation of THE SHINING I liked a lot better than the feature). Gary Braunbeck was also a guest, but he’d spent most of his recent life sitting in an airport, thanks to tornadoes, and of course the big guest was Richard “I AM LEGEND” Matheson, who also didn’t make it to the opening ceremonies, probably because he’s 83 years old and had much better things to do than listen to me babble.

In my first column for Dark Recesses magazine, I talked about how my convention-going experiences have changed from “Gotta see all the programming!” to “I’m just gonna stand around talking to people,” and that’s pretty much how the Stokers went. Aside from doing a quick video interview for Feo Amante’s site, conducted by Thomas Sipos, my schedule was free, so I hung out with cool people like (let the name-droppin’ begin, kiddies!) my NECon roomie Nanci Kalanta, Matt Schwartz, Yvonne Navarro, Weston Ocshe, Sephera Giron, Alice Henderson, Alex Sokoloff, Michael Dixon, Bill “AlienMotives”Lindblad, Jenny Orosel, Roy Robbins, Angel Leigh McCoy, Rain Graves, Wrath James White, Tracy Carbone, Vince Liaguno, Chad Helder, Lisa Mannetti, Kim Paffenroth, Hal Bodner, Bill Breedlove, Derek Clendening, Debra Roberts, Adam Pepper, John Everson, Robert Fleck, Dave Simm, John Palisano, Mort Castle, Andersen Prunty, P.S. Gifford, Martel Sardina, Tamar Lamberson, Jamie LaChance, Mark Worthern, Jeanne Eddy, Gord Rollo, Gene O’Neill, Robert Sabin, Lucy Snyder, Michele Calvillo, Corrinne de Winter, and a bunch of other people who, if I didn’t include them here, will be mentioned later.

Hank Schwaeble took Lynne and I, along with Rocky Wood, out on a field trip for Jamba Juice smoothies, which Rocky has now vowed to bring to his home continent of Australia. Brian Cartwright, being a cruel, heartless man with no soul, gave me a box of about 400 signature sheets for THE SEVERED NOSE to complete by Sunday.

I went to the Gory Ghoul Ball (hosted by Heather Graham and Helen Rosberg) for a while, and then headed over for a double feature of author readings and listened to a great excerpt from Hank’s upcoming novel and then a delightful reading by the always-in-motion Michael Louis Calvillo. Then I went back to the Gory Ghoul Ball for some surprisingly good pasta, and then gradually made my way back upstairs to bed.

To Be Continued…

(Next episode: Emceeing the Stokers–Brilliant Success or Humiliating Failure?)

Stoker Awards Weekend: Part One

My wife Lynne Hansen’s and my adventure began with a 6:15 AM flight on Wednesday, which didn’t seem like a good idea when we booked it and seemed even less brilliant when the alarm went off at 3:00 AM. But with the three-hour time change from Florida to California, we made it to Burbank around 11:00 AM, checked into the hotel, and took a cab to Sunset Boulevard. We wandered around there for a while, stopping at Book Soup (a bookstore so cool that it has a marquee outside to announce author signings) and the world-famous Carney’s to enjoy the gastrointestinal ecstasy of their chili dogs. 


At 4:00, it was time to visit the Identity Films office. (It was my first time getting “buzzed in” through a gate, which was pretty sweet.) I got to meet Anthony Mastromauro and John Meckler, and we spent about an hour talking about the PRESSURE movie and various other subjects, such as the hot dogs I’d just consumed. Screenwriter Jake Wade Wall is attached to the project, but he was on deadline and couldn’t be there. Their enthusiasm is incredible, and though it’s all still in the really early stages, things are looking very promising. And they want to take a look at my screenplay for GRAVEROBBERS WANTED (NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY), so…. 



From there, we wandered around Sunset Blvd. a bit more, freezing to death. Apparently we were in what they call “June Gloom” season, and we’d expected the weather to mimic Florida’s and thus didn’t bring jackets. Slightly poor planning there. We then met with Tom and Audrey Price, who we’d met back in 2005 when I was in the area for EPICon. They took us out to a great Italian restaurant, where I ordered an avocado pizza just because it seemed weird, and it turned out to be delicious. Debbie Gibson was at the same restaurant. I wanted to go over to her and mention that the trailer for MEGA SHARK VS. GIANT OCTOPUS is the greatest movie trailer of all time, but she probably gets a lot of that. We talked horror movies and horror fiction for a while, and not only did Tom and Audrey pay for dinner, but they drove us back to our hotel. They rock. 



Unconsciousness followed. 


We got up early on Thursday, still being on Eastern Standard Time, and took another cab to Hollywood, where we spent a while looking at the Walk of Fame and checking out the famous movie theatres. Then we decided to go on the Haunted Hollywood tour. It started out as a reprise of a bus tour we’d taken a couple of years in Grand Cayman, where the tour kept getting delayed because they kept seeking out more people to fill the vehicle, and different people were told that they were getting different tours. When the “Haunted Hollywood” tour added a family with three little kids who wanted to see the stars’ homes, we cried foul and asked for our money back. 

Of course, they were never going to do such a thing. Instead, they moved us out of the van, and we went with a different tour guide to the official Haunted Hollywood Cadillac. Which wouldn’t start. When it did start, another car was parked too closely behind it, and it took several very kind people giving directions and milimeter-by-milimeter maneuvering to get it out of the parking lot. Then we were finally on our way! 

As a “haunted” tour, it was a big honkin’ dud. As a drive around Hollywood in a Cadillac, though, it was a hell of a lot of fun. And we got to see the homes from HALLOWEEN and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, so it ended up being a entertaining and worthwhile experience, even if they’re kinda scammers.

(I also don’t see the point of touring around to see the stars’ homes, since they all have bushes so high that you can’t see anything but a front gate. I assume the other tour was “Behind these bushes lives Tom Selleck! Behind these bushes lives Martika!”)  

And…back to the hotel for the first Stokers-related event of the weekend! We gathered our booksigning stuff, and met up with Scott Browne, who was kind enough to drive us over to Dark Delicacies with him. Dark Delicacies is the coolest bookstore I’ve ever been to, and the place was packed, less of a signing than a Let’s See How Many People We Can Cram In Here mixer. If you wanted to punch a horror writer, you could have swung your fist at any time and connected with two or three of them. I got to sign a few copies of PRESSURE, reconnect with a bunch of old friends, and meet some online friends (like Joel Sutherland, Gabriel Faust, and Eric Christ) for the first time. As the crowd continued to grow, I squeezed over to a corner with actual oxygen and talked to Sharan Volin (who I hadn’t seen since Necronomicon 1996) for a while. 



We returned to the hotel, then walked across the street to Del Taco, where we dined with R.J. Cavender and Boyd Harris of Cutting Block Press, and Eric Grizzle. And then, like total wusses, we went to bed. 


To be continued…

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