If you’re a horror fan, odds are you love slasher flicks. Who is your all time favorite slasher villain? I’m partial to big ol lumbering Jason.
But have you ever stopped to ask yourself WHY you love watching some maniac chase and mutilate scores of people? Before you run out to make an appointment with a therapist to find out why you’re so twisted, check out my latest VIDEO VISIONS column over at Cemetery Dance Online. In what will be a year of exploring slasher movies, I start by pondering our bizarre fascination with slashers. The answer is simpler than you think. Although it may make you question some life choices. And if you have a particular slasher or movie topic you’d like me to explore in a future column, let me know. Great and demented minds do think alike.
What’s shakin’ Hellions? Remember the old Marvel Two-In-One comics where The Thing was paired each month with a new superhero? Well, I may not have scrapped against the Yancy Street Gang, but I can present a horror two-in-one.
First up on Monster Men, author J.H. Moncrieff takes us on a tour of Dracula’s Castle and the Haunted Forest of Romania. I am green with envy. Or is it pea soup?
Next, the Final Guys travel up to Maine to see if we can reunite with our beloved pets of the past. Does the new Pet Sematary rise above the original? Church still smells bad.
The Monster Men are kicking off a new series of episodes where we go back in time and look at the horror movies that came out in a specific year. We started it all off with 1987 (the last year I was a single man) and boy, what a year! It may be the best of all time. Give the episode a watch and tell me what you think. What was your favorite horror movie of 1987? Also, what years would you like us to explore next?
As a man who makes his stock-in-trade trade in creature features, I make it a point to watch as many monster flicks as possible. Somehow, I missed the 1993 horror/scifi romp, TICKS. That was the year my wife got seriously ill, so there are quite a few things that flew under my radar. Cut to years later and I always assumed I had watched it. Well, I hadn’t…until now.
I’ve had TICKS on my Amazon Prime watch list for a while now. If I had realized it was Ami Dolenz on the poster, I would have watched it sooner. The daughter of Monkee Mickey Dolenz, I crushed on her when she played a genie in the movie Miracle Beach.
If you’re looking for pure icky bug mayhem and some gooey gore, TICKS is for you. We start with a very young Seth Green being sent to one of those city kids goes to the woods camp. He meets a street thug who threatens to kill him if he doesn’t make a free throw. That gutter punk is none other than dancing Carlton, AKA Alfonso Ribeiro. It’s wig flipping to watch him play the tough kid who also sells dope on the side. They’re picked up in a van by couple Holly (played by Rosalind Allen, who I remember from the soap, Santa Barbara, but was also the marine biologist on Seinfeld) and Charles (Peter Scolari, from Newhart and Bosom Buddies – ever wonder how much he truly hates Tom Hanks?). Their sullen daughter is along for the trip and they’re joined by bad boy Ray, his main squeeze Dee Dee (Ami Dolenz) and a girl who never talks.
Oh, did I forget to mention that Clint Howard is a filthy redneck who has some insane contraption that pumps steroids into his marijuana plants? It looks like something the Little Rascals or Bugs Bunny would make, only less sturdy.
That weird goo is what drips on a tick and starts the whole shit storm. I always let out a little cheer when I see Clint in a movie. He’s this generation’s Dick Miller (RIP). The ticks pupate in these ooey-gooey egg sacks and when they pop out, they’re about the size of a man’s hand. Giant ticks skitter everywhere, latching onto faces and backs, crawling up pants and burrowing under rippling flesh.
This is all practical effects and it’s glorious. Be warned, a dog gets the tick treatment and he does not fare well. The third act is freaking bonkers, with hordes of ticks descending on the cabin, pot farmers looking to kill the wilderness kids and something growing inside Carlton. I don’t want to give too much away, but take my word and watch it if you haven’t already. Alas, there’s no nudity, but you do get Dolenz in a very teeny black bikini. There’s plenty of slime and blood and ticks exploding like pus filled popcorn when flame touches them.
I wonder how Seth Green feels about this movie. If you didn’t know better, you would swear he would never get another acting gig. He’s that bad. But hey, he was young and learning. Without this, we might not get Buffy or Robot Chicken!
It’s been a while since I posted a movie review, but I felt this was good penance to make up for missing TICKS for the past 26 years. It is now my job to preach the word. The only thing creepier than the ticks in the movie are the millions of ticks around my house carrying Lyme Disease. Thank you, Plum Island buttholes for creating that little gift.
Now, go watch TICKS. I have to attend to my chiggers.
Oh, and if you revel in the squeamish delight of TICKS, your skin will crawl with joy when you read THE DEVIL’S FINGERS. Swap out bugs for a killer fungus and let the games begin!
This isn’t me crapping on MFA (a Master of Fine Arts) degrees or everyone who has worked hard to get one. I know quite a few damn good people who have one they can add to their resume. This is about elitism and misguided entitlement. You can expand this from the microcosm of writing to all things great and small in our society.
For years, I’ve heard select MFA holders put down writers who they believe don’t possess such a degree, referring to them as hacks or worse. To them, only he or she who wears the MFA crown has the necessary skills to put words to paper. The rest of us are here to be dazzled by their command of the English language and storytelling prowess. I came across such a troll recently who lambasted my writing on Goodreads, basically saying I didn’t have the skills to be a good writer because it was apparent I never received the proper education to do the very thing I’ve been working at for over a decade. I read it and laughed, then looked up their name to find their writing credits. I wasn’t surprised to find zippo. (By the way, I’m a college graduate who never scored less than a 90 in English my entire life.)
Truth be told, the review didn’t make me angry. My skin is thicker than an elephant’s hide. If you’re going to do this for a living, you can’t let the bad or even the good reviews get to your head. What does make my blood boil is when I see a trend that deeply hurts earnest, honest writers.
An MFA degree doesn’t make you a writer, just as going to astronaut camp doesn’t qualify you for a stint on the ISS. In many cases, an MFA degree does put you in some serious debt, hoping to strike it rich in an industry that is pretty darn parsimonious when it comes to paychecks. As an author friend once said, better to learn a trade and be a fucking plumber.
I learned all I needed to know about becoming a writer from a chance meeting with the great Elmore Leonard. It was the late 90s and I was at a two day writers conference in New York City. I’d spent money I didn’t have to be there, hoping to learn from those who had scaled the mountain. I was in a classroom, sitting in the back because I had a hard time finding it and was almost late. A famous thriller author was giving a talk about the publishing process, but it was really an examination of the neurosis of a writer who never felt as if his stuff was good enough.
A small, older man sat next to me during the class. At one point, he leaned over and asked if I’d spent a lot of money to be there. I gave a quick answer, wishing he’d leave me be. He then said, “You see all these people? None of them will ever be writers. Don’t waste your money. You really want to be a writer?” Slightly annoyed, I said, “Of course.”
He said, “Then go home. Read a ton. Then write a ton. That’s all there is to it.”
I thanked him for the advice and shifted my attention back to the real author in the front of the room. When the class ended, the old man shuffled out and I headed for the next session. When lunch came, I grabbed a table by the podium, chatting with a world famous bestseller. Imagine my surprise when they brought that older man up to be the key speaker. It was Elmore Leonard!
I realized in that moment that I’d just gotten invaluable wisdom from a man who’d published more books than every writer at the conference combined. Who the hell was I not to listen to him? I vowed that day to never attend a writing conference. I was already a voracious reader, but I stepped up my writing game. Read a ton. Write a ton. I could do this.
And I did. As have so many others, all without the benefit of an MFA. You don’t need any high falutin’ qualifications to be a writer, other than a command of your native language, imagination, and limitless passion. I don’t care what degrees you have and don’t have, and neither do editors. Tell a damn good story they think will sell.
If you think your MFA makes you a better writer than someone who gets paid to write and publishes book after book, it’s time to dispel yourself of that delusion. That degree, especially if you’re not writing and publishing, is worth as much as the paper it was printed on. You are not entitled to a damn thing. You need to earn it. That means get off your high horse and get down in the mud and muck and write. Then go bust your hump finding someone to publish your work. Stop criticizing those who have accomplished the very thing that inspired you to get that degree. You are not the elite. You’re just a regular person who spent more on school.
Over the years, I’ve found that writers rarely criticize other writers because we all share the same story, the same grind. We not only know how the sausage is made – our hands are in it day after day. So next time you want to use your MFA to tear down another person, take a good, hard look at yourself and like most opinions, keep it to yourself. Writing is a great equalizer. You’d know it if you did it.
Just as I discovered there was more than one way to put my infant daughter’s crib together (to hell with those decorations written in an alien language!), there is more than one way to build a writer. Assembly usually takes a mere two decades. Batteries are not included, nor are they necessary.
This particular horror writer was not pushed by a Great Santini to become a wordsmith. My parents were quite happy to let me find my own dreams and goals and ways to achieve them. Looking back, I’ve tried to put all the connected, some loosely, pieces of the puzzle that eventually made me whole. So, here is how I was ‘built’. I’m interested to hear how others who do what I do came to be.
First, there were books everywhere in my house. I had a nice little library as a kid. My father would read anything he could get his hands on, so books were in just about every room. In school, my parents always let me buy books from the Scholastic catalogue. Nothing was better than the day the books came in and I waited feverishly for my name to be called so I could grab my booty for the semester. I was taught indirectly that books were to be treasured and sought after. Surrounded by all those books, reading became a vocation of sorts.
Issues of Time magazine were always in the bathroom. I would read them even when I was too young to understand what the articles were saying. It gave me an appreciation for a whole new structure of writing, and I learned a hell of a lot about politics. The first politician I wanted to be president was a guy named John Anderson who ran as an independent in the 1980 campaign. So sparked a lifetime of voting for underdogs. Ralph Nader anyone?
My father loved movies, therefore I loved movies. And the movies we loved the most were horror movies. We caught all of the Universal monsters on PBS when they aired. He took me to the drive in and the movie theater (with a balcony!) by our house all of the time. We watched Chiller Theatre together and Kolchak and The Twilight Zone. Half of my room was decorated with pages torn from Fangoria and Famous Monsters. Those movies didn’t just give me chills. They laid the foundation for my knowledge of the genre. I knew the tropes before I knew what the word trope even meant. I watched the progression of horror from the 1920s to the 1980s and I knew what worked and what didn’t. It came as no surprise to anyone that when I started writing, I pulled my car into the horror lane.
Until I was about 15, I thought I was going to be a artist, not a writer. My great uncle was an artist, even doing a lot of commercial art. That red French’s mustard flag – that was him. When I visited my grandparents, grandma would roll out what looked like brown butcher paper and give me a box of well-worn crayons. I would lay on the floor drawing tremendous space battles with star ships from Star Wars going mano-y-mano with Vipers from Battlestar Galactica. These scenes would be two feet high by three or four feet long. I wanted to be a comic artist. At age 9, I even created a one panel comic called Socks and Locks. It was about two buddies, ala Abbot and Costello, though with one of them being a psychopath. I submitted it to the paper and they gave me encouragement to keep working. Nowadays, they might have sent me to a shrink. I drew every character in the funny pages and comics. In grammar school, a friend and I created Mini-Hulk comics, with a diminutive and angry Hulk battling pencils and fingers and the whims of the artist.
My heart was set on going to the Rhode Island School of Design, but I plateaued before it came time to apply. I got so frustrated drawing hands! Oh, and girls came into the picture. But creativity was firmly implanted in my DNA.
Borrowing my grandmother’s typewriter, I started writing a series of short, post-apocalyptic stories on onion skin paper. They were all inspired by Escape from New York. If I couldn’t be Snake Pliskin in real life, I could make myself a close knockoff in stories. I then tried my hand at poetry, banging out four Zombie Moon poems. Again, I was a huge fan of Dawn of the Dead and if I was gonna sit down and write poetry, it better damn well have zombies. I wrote a lot my junior and senior years, even penning a story called Night Prayers that scared the wits out of my girlfriend, who later became my wife. I wonder if I still have a copy…
From the moment I got my first tape recorder for Christmas, I became an international radio star. Well, at least in my mind. I recorded hundreds of interview shows, radio serials and movie sendups, often playing multiple characters. I would rewrite entire films on the fly, acting out a bevy of male and female players. It taught me to be a great mimic, and whether I knew it or not, I was writing stories, just on tape instead of paper. And as far as I know, all of those tapes are gone.
By the time college came around, I was only writing papers to be graded. But being on the college radio station gave me a great creative outlet. I studied to be in radio, but just a few years after I graduated, the world went digital and everything I learned was obsolete overnight. So, I went to work for the phone company as a customer service representative. That should have been the death of my creative life.
But it wasn’t. I was hired along with a dude named Norm (whose Severed Press book, HUNGRY THINGS, is a hoot) who would reignite my creative spirit. Watching and listening to him talk about writing got me off my sorry ass to give it a try.
Little did I know, it would become a lifelong addiction. Luckily, I had done a lot of the heavy lifting all my life – by READING! Reading anywhere from 50 – 100 books a year gave me a subliminal master class on structure, plot, dialogue and all of the little things that go into writing a book.
I may not have been puffing away at a bubble pipe at five and struggling to pen the great American novel all of my life, but there was always creativity and a love of books. Whether it was drawing, watching movie, enacting radio dramas on a tape recorder in my room or writing bad poetry on paper so thin, it disintegrated a couple of years later, they were all outlets for an overactive imagination. Writers are dreamers. There are many ways to make those dreams come to life. When you marry the dream with a passion for the written word, well, no matter how many detours you take, you just might find yourself banging away at a laptop or going through legal pads like bath tissue. In my opinion, trying your hand at a myriad of different things will ultimately make you a better writer.
So, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.