State of the Art
A diary of horror in Australia
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On Wednesday morning, after William gets out of bed and asks where the Valium is and after I stumble out of bed to retrieve it from my purse and after he reminds me that the family has reservations at Spago at eight and after I hear the wheels on the Mercedes screech out of the driveway and after Susan tells me she is going to Westwood with Alana and Blair after school and will meet us at Spago and after I fall back asleep and dream of rats drowning, crawling desperately over each other in a steaming, bubbling Jacuzzi, and dozens of poolboys, nude, standing over the Jacuzzi, laughing, pointing at the drowning rats, their heads nodding in unison to the beat of the music coming from portable stereos they hold in their golden arms, I wake up and walk downstairs and take a Tab out of the refrigerator and find twenty milligrams of Valium in a pill box in another purse in the alcove by the refrigerator and take ten milligrams.
Lots to do, so let's get going. Horror is still straining into mainstream respectability with increased interest all round. Good news, we say, though perhaps it should be remembered that commercialisation is not the goal of the exercise.
Up the Escalator
"Imagine a blind person dreaming," she says.
On the Beach
Both from The Informers
Bret Easton Ellis
The sad news to start with was the passing of Raul Julia from cancer at the age of 54. He was perhaps best known for his energetic portrayal of Gomez Addams in the recent movies, but his most powerful role was held to be in Hector Babenco's Kiss of the Spiderwoman (1985). Horror fans may also remember him from his portrayal of none less than Baron Frankenstein in Roger Corman's Frankenstein Unbound (1990). Australian actor Frank Thring also died of late, of note to us for his roles in the first and third Mad Max. He was also Pontius Pilate in Ben Hur and even turns up in Howling III.
Poe has been dead for an awful lot longer, but recently Don Stine, a rare book dealer, discovered a poem in Poe's handwriting that may indeed be a lost work -- admittedly, only eight lines long.
Other Australian news includes the success of Bad Boy Bubby at the AFI awards, winning best actor for Nicholas Hope, and Best Screenplay. And still with the industry, the first test broadcast of Pay TV was made by the Galaxy company on the first of January -- but what is of interest is the debate that means R-rated material may not be permitted to be broadcast on the new medium. The Senate Select Committee into Community Standards is preparing a report on what controls are required for 'the protection of children'. Come on, what do you think people want Pay TV for, anyway?
And we are glad to report the formation of the Australian Horror Society. With an impressive list of goals and the organisation of the Melbourne club behind it, it may be just what fandom -- and professionals -- need in this country. An annual convention is a great idea.
All the big guns were out for Christmas, so lots of lovely big hardbacks on the shelves of late. Along with re-issues of her erotic work (with really tacky covers) Anne Rice released Taltos, probably horror's best seller of late (see the review elsewhere). The most interesting, however, was Bret Easton Ellis' latest The Informers. Falling somewhere between a book of short stories and a novel, it's another look at the disillusioned generation and the soul death of America. Without quite the same knife-in-the-stomach impact of American Psycho, it was more varied and certainly had its share of intense moments. The vampires were a surprise. Recommended.
Other big authors were Donaldson's Chaos and Order (review last ish), James Herbert's The Ghosts of Sleath and Dean R Koontz's Dark Rivers of the Heart. Meanwhile Dennis Etchison has released Shadowman, one of the first two books from the Raven imprint of Robinson Books in London. We believe Steve Jones is in charge of affairs (why not, he's doing everything else), and the other book is a compilation of three of Les Daniels' previous Don Sebastian Vampire novels -- those of which we've read being rather good.
Speaking of reprints, Anthony Burgess' Clockwork Orange turned up in a nice edition from Compact Books, inspired by Anthony's recent death, we guess.
Darkness, I is the third of Tanith Lee's superb Blood Opera series and also available is Eva Fairdeath, which seems to have escaped our bibliography of last issue. For those into role-playing their vampires, give the rule-books a miss with White Wolf's Dark Prince, the first World of Darkness novel by Keither Herber.
The death of the short story still hasn't happened and apart from Steve Jones anthologies we got Little Deaths from Ellen Datlow -- including the utterly brilliant The Lady of Situations by Australian Stephen Dedman. Ms Datlow co-edited the latest The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, always worth the read and including Terry Dowling. A number of Australian authors were also mentioned in the recommended reading list. The Daemon Street Ghost Trap also turned up in The Oxford Book of Australian Ghost Stories, edited by Ken Gelder. Terry Dowling's latest book The Man Who Lost Red includes the horror novella Scaring the Train. This is available from the publisher MirrorDanse.
To bring a touch of distinction to the non-fiction front, a completely revised edition of In Search of Dracula -- The History of Dracula and Vampires appeared. This book presents part of the exhaustive work by Raymond T McNally and Radu Florescu in discovering and presenting the real Vlad the Impaler. Also The Complete Vampire Companion -- Legend and Lore of the Living Dead, by Rosemary Ellen Gwiley, a wide-ranging but regrettably shallow survey.
Even more wide-ranging is More Things Than Are Dreamt Of -- Masters of Supernatural Horror From Mary Shelley to Stephen King in Literature and Film, by Alain Silver and James Ursini (and a preface by William Peter Blatty). Looks pretty good, too. Meanwhile, they're still trying to convince people that The Films of Stephen King are worth reading about. Why? Ann Lloyd tries to give the answer.
Magazines and Comics
Okay, Bloodsongs made its third appearance with a striking cover, an interview with Poppy Z. Brite, and best story goes to A Place for the Dead by the always entertaining Rob Hood. It should be reported that Steve Proposch is taking over full editorship with the next issue, while Chris Masters pursues the rest of his many projects. The third issue of Ex Cathedra made an appearance as well, a good-looking and apparently very popular Goth 'zine. As a matter of fact, Goths are creeping out all over, even to lengthy features in HQ magazine (that's Naomi from Nocturne on the cover) and the Good Weekend. Wouldn't have something to do with a certain vampire movie, you think?
* * *
Well, the first two issues of Eddie Campbell and Sean Phillips's Hellraiser run are out, after a nasty little piece by the original writer Jamie Delano. And, well, he did warn us! Great fun. Delano also had the Vertigo Vision Tainted, drawn by Al Davison -- and while I'm usually disappointed by one-shot comics, this one was a reasonably effective look at sexual guilt and voyeurism. Just what John Ney Rieber and John Van Fleet's Shadows Fall was about, however, is anyone's guess. Looks nice, but incomprehensible.
And back to Mr Campbell, issue five of his and Alan Moore's From Hell hit the shelves -- The Order of the Golden Dawn makes an appearance, much to our amusement (you'll find out why in a couple of issues), not to mention a young Alexander (to be Alistair) Crowley and William Yeats. Read this comic.
So they say the French greeted Mr Tarantino at Cannes, and after watching Pulp Fiction once or twice you can see why. With the high-profile end of the horror movie industry being a little disappointing in the last couple of years, it's not surprising the fans have flocked behind this man's devastatingly intense and intelligent style. Hell, any part of the movie industry could use writing and direction this good. In short, see it. Again. Interestingly, it managed to be almost completely different from his previous Reservoir Dogs (and, a good sign, from True Romance and NBK), much more laid back and less sensationalist in his story-telling -- without shrinking from the intolerable and the sacred.
Well, on to the high-profile end of the horror releases and, well, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was disappointing, full review else where. But Interview with the Vampire, however... apart from niggardly details it is hard to imagine a better adaptation of Anne Rice's novel. Performances all round were great; Brad Pitt captured the Louis 'who wears his sorrow like jewels' and was a comely young creature to boot and, yes, Tom Cruise did a great job. Kirsten Dunst was a woman in a girl's body -- and what's more evolved into this. The film was luscious on the eyes, heavy on the vampirism and Antonio Banderas got closer to Brad Pitt than he ever did Tom Hanks. But 'they aren't gays disguised as vampires', they're vampires, as Anne Rice says in her twenty page critique. Perhaps it didn't have the intensity of plot, down to an almost lack of suspense, needed to be a fully successful movie, but it had atmosphere and we want the sequel.
Fun (Rafal Zielinski) brings us to the low-profile and chance-taking end of the business. With credit. This exploration of an only gradually revealed crime committed by two teenage girls had character, nasty issues and a refusal to take the easy way out. It will make an interesting comparison with Heavenly Creatures, coming soon.
We've already mentioned Nightmare Before Christmas at some point, which got its mainstream release, but the best black comedy we've seen in a while is John Waters' new one, Serial Mom. Kathleen Turner carries the film, with a plot (and sensibility) that never stops being odd. It also featured a rather blatant 'horror movies are good and unconnected to real life violence' message.
Brainscan (John Flynn) was this survey's teen horror flick you never quite believe made it to the cinema. Nevertheless it was quite a good little film in the Elm Street/teen angst tradition and strangely didn't feature any actors from Twin Peaks, though Frank Langella (of the '79 Dracula) added a touch of class as the ever-closer policeman.
All the action here turned up in the first week of the survey, strangely enough. Most excitingly, the latest Dario Argento movie which... wasn't very good, though a lot better than we had been led to believe. It was still very Argento (co-written by novelist T. E. D. Klein) and managed to cover a lot of interesting ground (like anorexia, seances and that birth sequence). In the end it lacked the essential fusion of plot, imagery and character of, say, Tenebrae and Suspiria. Piper Laurie looked good with dark hair. Body Bags however, was an out-right disappointment. A cable anthology, it resurrected the hoariest plots imaginable, though it gave the subscribers all the body parts and cameos they could want. Finally there was a BBC adaption of Kafka's The Trial (David Jones), starring Kyle MacLachlan as Josef K and with Anthony Hopkins being scary. Apart from this one sequence, it failed to impart the sense of nightmare or even entrapment required. Also, it doesn't stand up in the slightest to Orson Welles' 1962 version with Anthony Perkins.
Otherwise, The Club (Brenton Spencer) turned up, an incredibly confused teen romp that would make great-looking electronic wall-paper for your next party. Speaking of which The Crow arrived on video, as did Fearless. Recommended both, for different occasions.
And in the non-fiction section, believe it or not, we have Stephen King's This is Horror volumes one and two (as far as we know there are another two coming, but the rather bad editing means they may have already arrived). Using an unusual variety of sample films (like, what they could get the rights for, we guess) intercut with some very good interviews and brief behind-the-scene looks at a couple of productions, they provide a worthwhile survey of the field.
Well, what can we say. We were on TV this time round and rather good we were too. Well, actually it was a Times report on the Gargoyle Club, Sydney's regular social horror gathering. The Times is basically a fast-paced up-market tabloid, thick on shots but thin on content -- they edited out lots of interesting stuff from everybody, reducing most of it to sound-grabs and candelabrae. Still, overall it came across as very positive and amusing to all concerned. Talking about tabloids and candles, Tom Cruise got a slightly longer session talking to Oprah Winfrey, trying to justify Interview with the Vampire to the bible belt. Once again he did a pretty good job, staving them off if not exactly saying anything profound about the genre that has now adopted him.
Still on non-fiction we had a rather good documentary (with rather bad reconstructions) about the original Frankenstein novel. On SBS of course, who also repeated Vlad the Impaler. Not really non-fiction, they also started a thirteen part documentary on Hammer films. Narrated by Oliver Werewolf Reed it amounts to little more than a themed grab-bag of clips each week. Nice to see some of Kiss of the Vampire at last, but why aren't they following the doco's with the complete movies? Still, we can't really complain as they are using the slot for even more obscure European horrors. The docos are part of the resurrected Hammer's bid for limelight, which also includes the recent Hammer Horror magazine. More later.
While movies are nice, it's good to see some original television, which we are with the return of Forever Knight (part of Channel 9's late-night weird cop shows during non-ratings). FK is the one about the vampire policeman, and whilst more entertaining than actually good, it is remaining innovative and interesting. Speaking of non-ratings, where did The Adventures of Brisco County Junior go? It wasn't that bad, the main attraction for horror buffs being the ever-tortured Bruce Campbell. And does the Australian Halifax fp count as the first X-Files rip-off? That 'fp' stands for forensic psychologist -- if it had been pathologist it might have been worth watching.
And the movies... Once again some interesting fair in the early hours: The Vampire Lovers, Blood and Roses, Vamp, and Countess Dracula for you-know-what. Company of Wolves probably fits in here as well. But The Hills Have Eyes was a definite surprise. Otherwise, Food of the Gods, Bitter Moon, The Doctor and the Devils and a nasty little Japanese piece about cannibalism and Luminous Moss. Look What Happened to Rosemary's Baby also made an appearance (interesting. Not very interesting), along with fifteen other entries. Plus a really odd version of The Elephant Man from 1982 that might almost have been good if not for the David Lynch version.
The other event gracing our TV screens was Nick Cave's selection of clips (love that Weeping Song) on the ABC's Rage, which leads us nicely into
Music and Audio
Indeed Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds toured locally in December. In the record shops the only significant find was the Pulp Fiction soundtrack -- though after the utterly gorgeous NBK album it was a bit of a let-down. Some good stuff.
Thankfully they haven't released a novelisation of PF, though there is one for Natural Born Killers floating around and somewhat stupidly, really, one for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. There is, though, also a recording of Kenneth Branagh reading the original novel, which sounds worth the money to us.