Martin Powell Guest Blog For The Month Of C.H.U.D.

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Darkness Dwells is proud to present an interview with Martin Powell regarding C.H.U.D. and his contribution to the C.H.U.D. Lives Tribute anthology.

 Darkness Dwells:  Thank you for talking with us! Do you remember the first time you watched C.H.U.D? If so, how did the movie affect you?

POWELL:  I vividly remember snatching the VHS from the shelf at a local video store, attracted by the box art.  Of course, kids today can’t appreciate how exciting the advent of Home Video was, making it possible to see more movies than ever before.  During that period, slasher films mostly dominated the horror genre which I’m not of fan of, but I’ve always loved monsters, especially the Frankenstein series of Universal Studios.  Movie monsters were rare during those days, but C.H.U.D. certainly had ‘em.  Very cool ones, too.

DD:  How did you approach writing your story for C.H.U.D?

POWELL:  When I started thinking about my story, I knew wanted to portray the creatures in a rather sympathetic way, but still make them terrifying.  The trick was to expand upon the movie itself, without trying to redundantly imitate it.  While I was re-watching my DVD copy of C.H.U.D., it occurred to me that they didn’t really get into the creatures’ heads or explore what the mutation experience would be like, so I went in that direction.

DD:  What was your biggest challenge writing it?

POWELL:  Well, I’m a full-time writer with a seven-days-per-week schedule, so the biggest challenge was just finding the time to write it.  When editor Eric Brown first approached me to be a part of the anthology, I very reluctantly turned him down and immediately I regretted that.  Deciding that sleep is overrated, and I’m an insomniac anyway, I messaged Eric back and said if he’d still have me, I’d be delighted.  Otherwise, I knew I’d be missing out on something very fun. 

DD:  Your story, “Monstrous Me” has an element of body horror to it. Is this something you enjoy writing about?

POWELL:  Well, sort of.  Although I’ve never been a fan of visceral gore for its own sake, but metamorphosis in horror has always fascinated me.  Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is a trailblazer in the genre, and Bram Stoker’s poignantly eloquent and ultimately terrifying transformation of Lucy Westenra in DRACULA is brilliantly conceived.  Kafka achieved some very disturbing psychological effects, too.  All of those inspired and influenced me.

DD:  If you ever had the chance to either write for another 80s horror movie tribute anthology, which movie would you choose and why?

POWELL:  Probably American Werewolf in London, because it also deals with metamorphosis.  Also, I’m a big fan of Fred Dekker’s MONSTER SQUAD.

DD:  Man, those are two great movies and would be fun to write in their world. Do you have anything coming out soon that readers can check out?

POWELL:  I write nearly a dozen weekly online comic strips for Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., which will be collected as printed volumes by Dark Horse.  My Amazon Author’s Page has zillions of my graphic novels, children’s books, and prose fiction available all the time.  Also, I’m writing a new horror prose novel, The Witch of Cypress Creek, to be released in 2019.

About Martin Powell:

Martin Powell has written hundreds of stories in numerous genres for Disney, Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Capstone Books, among others. Nominated for the prestigious Eisner Award for his work with Sherlock Holmes, he has written many of the most popular characters in the industry, including Superman, Batman, Popeye the Sailor, Dracula, Frankenstein, and Tarzan of the Apes. Currently, as the author of almost a dozen different ERB online comic strips, and the critically acclaimed Jungle Tales of Tarzan graphic novel from Dark Horse, Powell has written more Edgar Rice Burroughs characters than any other contemporary writer.  He received the coveted Golden Lion Award from the Burroughs Bibliophiles in 2017 for his on-going contributions to the legacy of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Visit Martin and his work online:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/martin.powell1

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Martin-Powell/e/B001JRXRSU

Website: http://www.edgarriceburroughs.com/comics/

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The Month of C.H.U.D.

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On April 27th, Crystal Lake Publishing is set to release their first big anthology of the year with the C.H.U.D. Lives Tribute. If it is successful, who knows, maybe more movie tributes will come around. Now, that would be exciting indeed! 

You can preorder a copy of The C.H.U.D. Lives Tribute here.

Stick around because if everything goes as planned we have interviews lined up in both written and audio format. There may also be an essay or two.  It's going to be a lot of fun, but in order to enjoy it, you really need to see and/or rewatch the movie. It's popcorn-munching radioactive fun. It's available on the iTunes Store and at Amazon.com

 

Flowers (2015) by Michael Schutz

Please do not confuse this Phil Stevens-directed horror film with Flowers (Loreak), the award-winning Spanish film. Terrible consequences would follow—though I imagine those intending to see Loreak would fare much worse for the mistake. This Flowers is a new entry into the canon of extreme horror films, mentioned in the same breath as the new American Guinea Pig series and other ghastly treasures found at Unearthed Films.

The synopsis that you’re likely to find simply states that Flowers is the story of six women who wake up in the crawlspace underneath their killer’s house. That’s a pretty disinterested summary of a fascinating film. Unlike so many of its fellow extreme movies, Flowers presents an engrossing balance of delicate story with its vile images. Stevens find the poignancy in the narrative while never shying away from gruesome visuals. The result is an artistic, compelling, gore-filled film.

We begin with a birth, of sorts, our first victim tearing herself free of the bag in which she was dumped like so much garbage. Our next fractured heroine crawls her way through a birth canal of sewage and viscera. And we really start to get the vibe of the film. These women are no longer victims but rather witnesses. The atrocities are filtered through their eyes, their experience, proving that a point-of-view movie can be made beyond the tired tropes of found footage cinema.

The carnage through which our witnesses slog is enriched by flashbacks of their deaths. Ah, yes, they are already dead and have woken to a purgatory of despair and enduring torture. When we meet the killer, we see that he is also a victim—of his insanity and depraved urges. He is just a man: bespectacled, fat, and under-endowed. Because real villains don’t wear masks and caper madly about. We are not privy to the voices in his head. Instead, Stevens employs a clever device by showing us the killer’s lunacy in the form of video screens through which somber, suited men watch impassively.

And no one speaks in this film. Instead, a dread-inducing score plays throughout, changing in tone from foreboding to romantic to despairing, to fit each witness’s epiphany. The sound, in general, is exceptionally thought-out and executed. All the action sounds hollow and subaqueous. This all matches the surreal nightmare images that assault our witnesses and through them, us.

There is a theme of voyeurism here. As our witnesses peek through chinks in the walls, gaze in mirrors, or flashback to their tortures, they are removed from the horror even as they can find no escape. We share the experiences with them, disgusted at what we see but unwilling to look away. And that’s what horror films are all about. Voyeurism. Watching our deepest fears—or darkest desires—played out with the comfortable filter of the screen.

Nods toward the deadly sins abound as well: Gluttony at the dinner table, Greed represented by the blood-spattered bills lying on the ground, Pride as one of our witnesses watches herself in the mirror, Lust abounds in the necrophilia and depraved sex of the killer, who also is Wrath incarnate. Sloth perhaps hides behind the addictions and rampant drug use. I didn’t find Envy, but I’m sure it was there. So is this a morality play? A demented Canterbury Tales in which each woman both watches and tells her story? Perhaps. They are not all innocents, to be sure, but who among us is?

Our six witnesses are, of course, the eponymous flowers. Beautiful and full of life but plucked too soon. Arranged and displayed by this madman. People are obviously burdened with complexities unknown to insensate nature, but just like the concept of wabi-sabi, it is humankind’s frailties and fault lines that make us the miracle of life that we are.

Flowers is a brutal film, proudly displaying graphic images meant to disgust and disturb. But it is far more. Through truly artistic turns, we see the juxtaposition of life and death, beauty and horror. This film reminds us of what A.S. Byatt once said, that there is no such thing as a still life, because even at the very moment we capture a beautiful thing in paint, in film, by any medium, it is already decaying, headed toward its inevitable death.

 

How I Was Wrong about Bone Tomahawk

Written by Michael Schutz

Over the last couple of weeks, I told anyone who would listen that I didn’t like S. Craig Zahler’s new Western/Thriller Bone Tomahawk. “Too slow!” I said. “The characters are too stoic; I didn’t feel a sense of urgency!” I cried. Well, as positive reviews and comments for the film continued to pour in, I decided to give this one another try. I’m glad I did. I was wrong about Bone Tomahawk.

I should begin with compliments to the casting director. My first viewing, I dismissed the ensemble as a simple gathering of relatively big names to help drive ticket sales. That was my first mistake. This is actually a perfect cast. Not every actor can believably pull off the formal, stilted dialog that screenwriters use for Westerns. Everyone in Bone Tomahawk is quite convincing in this regard.

Beyond that, each of our key players is fleshed out with subtleties, quirks, and backstories. And each actor seems tailor-made for their roles.

Kurt Russell, who is no stranger to Westerns (Tombstone, The Hateful Eight), embodies the humorless, no-nonsense sheriff, who is painfully unaware of the ironies and dangers around him.

Patrick Wilson captures the frustrations of a simple man who suddenly finds his machismo ripped away—first with an injury that renders him useless, then as a husband who cannot protect his wife, and then a masterful combination of the two during his journey to reclaim his masculinity and his bride.

Matthew Fox nails the character of Brooder, whose self-assured self-absorption never crosses over into caricature or villainy. Clearly the wealthiest man in the town of Bright Hope, he is also the most competent and an accomplished Indian killer. Which is not a boast, just a fact. It is his summation of his own character that best describes him, “I am far too vain to live as a cripple.” The line is not only true, but illustrates an understanding of his own flaws.

And the terrific character actor Richard Jenkins channels Chicory, the doddering old backup deputy. In lesser hands (both in writing and performance) this character would be the dishonored drunk or the dangerously incompetent bumbler. But Chicory is often the first to notice when things are amiss. His country witticisms (“It’s nine, but it feels like next week.”) and small-town naiveté (the charming story about the flea circus) never get on Sheriff Hunt’s nerves—or the audiences, in my newfound opinion. And Jenkins’ performance is stellar, at one point absent-mindedly working his mouth but finding no words as he stands apart from the action.

In all, what I at first took to be dull stoicism is in fact hefty doses of determination, humor, and hubris in perfect measures. Early scenes with Mr. and Mrs. O’Dwyer and a quiet conversation between Sheriff Hunt and his wife set up the individual stakes of these men. And O’Dwyer’s leg injury is the physical representation of a fatal flaw for an otherwise strong man. It puts our heroes at a disadvantage from the start and substitutes as suspense while the film builds.

Yes, we wait until an hour and nineteen minutes to hear again the cave dwellers chilling “music,” but the hour of character development pays off in the long run. The balance of camaraderie and tension among them plays as genuine and sets the tone for the first half of the movie. I simply must not have paid attention the first time I watched, because a sense of urgency and kinship most definitely forms between the audience and the men on their quest.

And about that quest… The “troglodytes” who kill and kidnap indiscriminately present a threat utterly unlike most foes in either Westerns or thrillers. Their silent, precise attacks are both more real and more terrifying than most foils. The prime example of their cold efficiently comes at an hour and thirty-six minutes, and shook me to the core. And the image of the blind, pregnant troglodyte women will haunt my dreams for a while.

So yes, my friends, I was wrong about Bone Tomahawk. I’m happy I gave it another viewing. Yes, these characters were stoic in their grim determination. But they were so much more. This movie is a thrilling example of character development in film. With only a couple key scenes of brutality, it cements itself into the mind. It’s a movie about honor and horror. It presents us with a unique take on the dichotomy of morality versus survival. Grim, clever, and relentless, this is definitely one to watch.

As always, stay dark, my friends…and shoot first; ask questions later. But make sure you ask those questions.

Cropsey (2009)

Written by Michael Schutz

If you don’t make your bed, Cropsey’s going to get you.

You’d better behave, or Cropsey’s going to get you.

That was the general idea behind the Staten Island urban legend of Cropsey, originally a colloquial slang word for “maniac.” And Staten Islanders knew about maniacs. Sort of. This was the home of Willowbrook State School, the detestable facility made infamous by Geraldo Rivera’s landmark exposé. Willowbrook was supposed to take care of up to 4,000 children with “intellectual disabilities.” But from 1947 to 1987, upwards of 6,000 men, women, and children with varying mental challenges (and overlooked or misunderstood conditions such as cerebral palsy) overfilled the facility. Conditions were ungodly. Robert Kennedy visited and declared that the people in Willowbrook were “living in filth and dirt, their clothing in rags, in rooms less comfortable and cheerful than the cages in which we put animals in a zoo.”

Willowbrook closed in 1987.

So where did all those poor people go? Most were relocated to various facilities in and around New York City, but it has long been speculated that some—those not as cognitively disabled as once thought—were simply released. True or not, that was a story believed by many on Staten Island. And what better place for these “maniacs” to wander than the island’s 2,800-acre parkland known as the Greenbelt?

All of this begins the 2009 documentary, Cropsey. We learn that through the years Staten Island became a sort of dumping ground: not just for the mentally challenged and mis-labeled, misunderstood people housed at Willowbrook, but for the bodies from mob hits, for sufferers of tuberculosis, and also for literal garbage dumps. History, legends, fact, and fiction created a perfect storm for the real Cropsey to emerge.

In 1987, twelve-year-old Jennifer Schweiger disappeared, her body discovered thirty-five days later. She wasn’t the first. Abductions and murders of children with developmental disabilities had begun in 1972. But it was after the Schweiger case that the police finally nailed their long-time suspect. Their Cropsey.

A former Willowbrook orderly, Andre Rand, had been living in the woods for years. He is presented as not quite sane himself. And a sort of cult leader for a clan of homeless men and women living in the tunnel system underneath Willowbrook. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced for the kidnapping of Jennifer Schweiger; the jury could not reach a verdict on the first-degree murder charge. Sixteen years later, he was brought back to court and convicted of kidnapping the first girl, Holly Ann Hughes.

                                                                     Andre Rand

                                                                     Andre Rand

The question is, Did he really do it? An even better question, Did he do all of it? Because Rand was tried and convicted of every case in the lens of the media and the minds of the locals, who had conditioned themselves to believe in Cropsey. Guilty or not, Rand was an easy target: homeless, uncommunicative, bizarre and bizarre-looking. Just as the idea of Cropsey had long been the symbol of everything bad that could happen, Rand became the face of that very same evil. Rand and Cropsey, one and the same—a living, breathing villain to blame for all the missing and murdered children.

This documentary doesn’t have the answers. Therein lies its hook. It poses questions that are largely unanswerable, but it presents riveting discussion points. This film casts a spell, in turns creepy, sad, and thought-provoking. David Kwok of the Tribeca Film Festival said, “The eeriness of the mystery pulsates through the film as they journey into the underbelly… As more information and clues unravel, filmmakers Zeman and Brancaccio become more immersed in shocking surprises and revelations. The reality they uncover in this uniquely hair-raising documentary is more terrifying than any urban legend.” I cannot say it any better. 

Once again, reality proves more brutal, more strange, than any fiction. So stay dark, my friends, but stay safe. The monsters are real. They live next door. 

Best Horror Movies: 1970s

Written by Jason White

This list was a lot more difficult putting together than it was the Top 10 80s Horror List. The reason for this, I think, is because I don't have the same nostalgia or attachment to 70s horror that I do with 80s horror. There are also plenty of serious classics within the 70s, which makes it difficult to choose from. There are some movies, you will note, that did not make the list. The reason they are not there is because they didn't really do anything for me. Remember, this is nothing if not an opinion piece. Nonetheless, I want to read what you think is the best of 70s horror movies.

10. The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

Who can forget Vincent Price as the insane, bald-headed Dr. Phibes as he searches out for revenge. One reason I love 70s horror movies is for some of the color experimentation that the set designs took. Dr. Phibes is no exception. It’s a color bomb that exploded and left its gooey shrapnel all over the place. And the story? Well, following Phibes on his mad mission is just plain old fun. Brilliant film!

9. Phantasm (1979)

Maybe it’s the old goth in me, but I love graveyards and cemeteries (there’s a difference between the two, look it up!). Especially at night. Especially in horror movies. So Phantasm seemed like something right up my alley. And it was. This is the first installment of four parts and is, perhaps, the most fun to watch. The second Phantasm movie was a big influence for the Warner Bros television series Supernatural. I don’t think that this little tidbit is mentioned anywhere as fact, but I dare you watch it and then watch Supernatural and then come back and tell me there isn’t a big similarity between the two!

8. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

One thing I love about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is how everyone thinks it’s so gory. If you’re one of these people, then I challenge you to go back and watch it again. You’ll be hard pressed to find much blood at all. Director Tobe Hooper filmed it in such a way that when the really gory stuff should have been splattering the cameras, he left all that for the viewer’s imagination to take over. Don’t believe me? Give it a re-watch and see for yourself.

7. Carrie (1976)

Stephen King is somewhat of a prophet, I think. In Carrie, we have Carrie White who’s coming of age story in high school is a very unhappy one. Her mom is religiously insane and locks her up in a closet whenever her daughter needs to ask the Lord to forgive her of her sins. At school, she is bullied mercilessly to the point where when someone tries to do something nice for her, she thinks it’s a trick. In the end her face is indeed painted red (so to speak – and yes, pun intended), so it's no wonder that she turns her newfound powers on everyone in the only way she knows how to fight back. Seems way too much like modern times.

6. Halloween (1978)

I’ll admit that I love gore in the movies I watch. But sometimes you really don’t need it at all. Just like with Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween doesn’t have that much gore at all. In fact, there’s not a very high body count, either. What John Carpenter did was give us the very beginnings of the slasher movie with killer POV shots. And in this one, the beginning Michael Myers POV shot is especially very well used and creepy.

5. Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Zombies! Although this isn’t my favourite of the zombie genre, that award goes to Day of the Dead, Dawn of the Dead would certainly make the top five or ten. There’s just something about living in a mall with free range to every freaking store within that appeals to me. Oh, and zombies chomping down on Mexican biker gangs inside said mall, too. There’s nothing better, really.

4. The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist was, perhaps, one of the first truly brutal horror films to ever shine its darkness upon the silver screen. This one was so bad that one viewer in the UK passed out while watching and broke his jaw in his fall. He sued Warner Bros who later settled out of court. It surprises me that people, mainly from younger generations, think that this movie is boring. Seriously. WTF!

3. Suspiria (1977)

Dario Argento’s Susperia is a film that acquires a special sort of taste. When I first watched this film, I hated it and wondered why anyone would like such tripe. For some reason I was pulled back into watching the film repeatedly. There was just something about it that I needed to figure out. And in the interim, I fell in love with it. It is a strange story told with, as Dr. Phibes, a myriad of colors and odd characters. To be honest, I’ve seen the film quite a few times now, and I still don’t fully comprehend everything it has to offer. But I still love it.

2. Alien (1979)

I was about eight years old when I was out with my mother and grandmother visiting a friend of theirs. It was winter. Night time. I remember this so well because while there they thought they’d put on a television show for me to keep me entertained while they jibber jabbered. At the time I was afraid of anything that was remotely monster-like, and they all thought, while flipping through the TV Guide that a movie with the title Alien might be something that would entertain a youngster such as me. They didn’t realize it was This Alien, Ridley Scott’s masterpiece. They turned it on at a good time, too. Right when the we learn that Ash is a cyborg and is losing his shit, trying to stuff rolled magazines down Ripley’s throat. Then one of the crew members knocks Ahs’s head off after hitting him in the head with a fire extinguisher, where it hangs off the back of his back on threads of skin.

“Oh dear,” my grandma said.

And I cried. A lot. I was inconsolable.

 1. Jaws (1975)

I remember renting this movie in the early to mid 80s after I had gotten over my fear of monsters, and it played in high rotation. There’s some scenes in this movie that still blow me away and disturb me. That and the story, along with Spielberg’s direction, is nearly if not perfect. It also makes great summertime movie watching, or even during the winter if you’re looking to depress yourself by showing a movie that takes place at the beach.

Honorable Mentions

Frenzy (1972)

Black Christmas (1974)

Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)


What 70s horror do you think deserves to be on this list?

Angst (1983)

Angst is a German serial killer film from the early Eighties, directed by Gerald Kargl and written by Kargl and Zbigniew Rybczynski. I had heard this movie discussed online as a top “disturbing film.” Those are words that capture my attention, and I finally sat down for an afternoon of German terror.

First things first, Angst is shot with terrific camera angles. In some movies, overt cleverness can get in the way, but the images here were handled with aplomb. We start with a descending shot of a prison more imposing than Kubrick’s Overlook Hotel. Like Kubrick’s film, the interiors of these opening scenes are filmed to appear monstrous, overwhelming to the prisoners. As the guard walks the corridors, we get an extreme close-up of his keys. The instruments of freedom made huge, impossible not to focus on. And as our antihero takes his first steps outside, the camera flies overheard, like a bird soaring on the wind.

Erwin Leder provides a deeply unsettling performance as the unnamed protagonist—credited as The Psychopath. We, the audience, are made privy to his warped thoughts in a nearly continuous voiceover not by Leder, but rather Robert Hunger-Bühler. Voiceovers, like clever camera angles, have the potential to ruin a film, but once again, Angst nails it. The narration plays as a stream-of-consciousness rambling of the psychopath’s mind at every given moment. On the other hand, it is not exactly necessary, because Leder’s unhinged performance gives us all the shifty eyes and frantic movements of a spun-out nut job. His first foray into the public, at a little café, is a marvel to watch. As his interior monologue convinces himself that the girls at the other end of the counter are lusting for him, the close-ups on his sausage-chewing mouth, their lips, and his crazy eyes zoom in until we’re almost inside their skins.

As he walks the streets, we follow along at his shoulder. Are we the better angels of his character, begging him to make the right choices? I don’t think so. We see from the point of view of the devil perched at his ear, ever pushing him toward madness. That his bizarre acts make perfect sense to him engage us even further.

After a taxi driver fails to understand how close she came to death, our psychopath follows a trail in the woods right out of the plethora of German fairy tales. And like any good fairy tale, there is a house in the middle of those woods. Leder is our big and very bad wolf, who breaks in and destroys three lives in a series of long, brutal, complicated nastiness. As he commits heinous acts, he calmly recounts to us the degradation he suffered as a child and his first youthful tortures of neighborhood animals. His violence culminates in an attack of startling and realistic brutality.

We have seen his spiral into madness. What remains is the unraveling of his composure. This is a deconstruction I’ve rarely witnessed in film. He is not the suave Dr. Hannibal Lector who will calmly walk away from his crimes. Our psychopath has completely lost all control by the end of the movie, and his choices will make you cringe and shake your head.

Angst is not a subtle film in its violence and portrayal of a crazy killer. Yet subtle elements abound like Easter eggs to ooh and ahh over. Apart from the camera work and fairy tale imagery, one thing I noticed was the man reading the paper at the café. On the first day, the headline reads WAR. He’s there again the following day, but this morning the headline reads PAX, Latin for “peace.” But will The Psychopath ever find his own peace?

These days, I don’t know if Angst can rightly hold a place in the “most disturbing films” lists, but there is much more to this movie than the brief gore and fits of craziness. Angst is a terrific film. An oddity, perhaps. An experience, for certain. So much more than the sum of its parts, but those individual parts are terrific, too!