Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Guest Post: T.S. Dann Reviews SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK Movie

Greetings, ladies and jerks.

Apparently, the Matthew Quinn values my opinion enough to ask my thoughts after a recent trip to the moving pictures. The picture show in question is the recently released film Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark. 

Why should you care what the hell I have to say about this movie? Well, let’s just say as an almost lifelong fan of the books and current author and artist, they are something I have held very near and dear for several decades. They are ingrained into the psyche of myself and many others of my generation (mid 30s now) and endure to this day for new readers. What’s more, is during the almost thirty years (as of this writing) of these books’ existence, they have survived a Satanic Panic, book bans, and other overzealous idiocy.

With that out of the way, I originally heard there was going to be a movie based on the books in early 2019. I was not optimistic. Another piece of modern Hollywood schlock that would probably be some goofy crapfest with a few haphazard nods to the books here and there. In fact, I wondered how a Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark movie could work outside an anthology of very short pieces. That being said…the part of me infused with an ever-morbid curiosity said, “If I don’t have to pay for it.”

Well, through a series of happy accidents, my girlfriend and I ended up with passes to a sneak preview on August 7 (general release was August 9). Ever the cynic, I went in with very low expectations. Well I gotta say…my pessimistic ass was not only kicked out of the olde tyme hearse, I bounced off the gravelly old road and landed smiling like that big pipe-smokin’ head on the cover of the first volume. I fucking love that guy.

The movie begins on Halloween of 1968 in a rural American town. The tale of three townie kids and an outsider is woven amidst a backdrop of the doomed anxiety of the era. Televisions broadcast about the war in Vietnam, Richard Nixon, and other political angst. One of the local jock bullies walks out of a military recruiting center jazzed about going to shoot commies. The three kids navigate adolescent tension with all this as the backdrop. Early in the movie, they end up in a rather spirited conflict with said jock bully and his crew. The rubes chase them to the drive in theater where Night of The Living Dead is playing and they hide in the car of a passing outsider. From there, they convince the outsider to go see a local haunted house. Well, you know that can never go wrong in a horror movie.

Upon entering the house, we learn the sad tale of Sarah Bellows and her high falutin’ family. Apparently poor old Sarah was not quite “normal” and was locked in the basement where she eventually died. Leading up to her death, she would tell stories to kids who would come try to talk to her through the walls. Then weird things started happening…and the whole family disappeared, leaving their Gothic mansion abandoned. The legend goes that if you enter the house and tell Sarah you want to hear a story, she will tell you one. Or…you can find her personally written book of stories in the basement and get locked in there by the local drunken jocks. The problem is Sarah is still writing in that book of stories…despite having died in 1899.

From there, the movie incorporates five stories from the original books into the plot: "Harold," "The Big Toe," "The Red Spot," "The Dream," and ultimately a composite of “Me-Tie-Doughty-Walker”, “What Do You Come For?”, and "Aaron Kelly’s Bones." While not exact adaptations, they are quite faithful to the feel of their literary counterparts. In fact, in the final segment, there is a part where a head and dismembered body fall down a chimney…and it looked exactly the way I pictured it back in the day when I first read “What Do You Come For?” and “Me-Tie-Doughty-Walker”.

The plot and action are actually quite morbid and macabre. The haunting creatures manifested by Sarah’s tales are not only scary, but lethal. This one does not play it safe. They kill high school kids and townsfolk alike per Sarah’s tales, imbuing the film with a sense of foreboding danger. While not particularly blood-drenched, the movie does not shy away from gore either. What is there is used to good effect. There is also a fair deal of profanity and the movie does not shy away from heavy subjects such as racism, widespread anxiety during war, strained family relations, underage alcoholism, and other themes not commonly explored in PG-13 horror.

I really don’t want to blather on too much about the stories for the sake of not spoiling anything. What I will say is as an avid reader of the books and someone who has gone on to own many other books illustrated by Stephen Gammell, is that the effects and atmosphere in the movie do justice to the source material. Elements of some stories are combined, I.E. the hot dead chick illustrated in "The Haunted House" appears as the antagonistic spirit in the movie’s adaptation of "The Big Toe." She’s not a graphite portrait, but the effects used create a strong representation of the original.

If you are a fan of good horror in general or an original fan of Alvin Schwartz’s retold folklore, or even just Stephen Gammell’s immortal illustrations, you will be pleased with the film adaptation of Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark. I expected the worst and found my old hollow heart slightly filled by this love letter to the tales and illustrations that I fell in love with all those years ago.

-T.S. Dann is a former police detective and forensic investigator from DeKalb County, Georgia. He is currently an author and artist who is working on his second book in the brutally dark Nightmarescape series. He has shared tables with Matthew Quinn at several Atlanta area events, mainly because he likes annoying him between customers. 

You can check out his artwork and books on Amazon, Instagram, and Etsy.

Monday, August 12, 2019

My Decatur Book Festival 2019 Schedule

Last year I manned a tent at the Decatur Book Festival on behalf of the Atlanta Writers Club and Posman Books. I also spoke at the Emerging Authors Pavilion at the festival. Although I will not be participating in the EAP this year and Posman Books will not be present, I will be returning to sell copies of my two extant books The Thing in the Woods and The Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly Vol. 2 and network with fellow authors and book fans.

Saturday, 8/31

On Saturday, I will be volunteering with the Atlanta Writers Club from 10 AM to 11 AM, signing up new members and generally hyping up the club. From 11 AM to 12 PM, I will be selling/signing books. So if you'd like to stop by to talk or get a book signed, 11 AM to 12 PM is the best bet. The Atlanta Writers Club tent will be in front of the Masonic Temple near the intersection of Clairemont and East Ponce De Leon Road.

Later that day, from 4-6 PM, I will be selling and signing books at the Horror Writers Association Atlanta Chapter's tent, which is marked 505/507 on the festival map near the Masonic Temple. The HWA has the added bonus of a gift basket consisting of signed books from many of the club members (and some other swag besides) that will be raffled off at 5:45 PM. You can get tickets throughout the day, but you must be present to win.

Sunday, 9/1

From 12 PM to 1 PM on Sunday I will be volunteering again with the Atlanta Writers Club and selling from 1 PM to 2 PM in front of the Old Decatur Courthouse. From 2-4 PM I will be signing with the HWA, again at 505/507 on the festival map near the Masonic Temple. There will be another gift basket raffled off at 5:45 PM that day. The same rules as before--you can get tickets throughout the day, but must be present to win.

For those who are interested, here's the Facebook event for the HWA event. The more the merrier. :)

Sunday, August 11, 2019

THE HUNT, or Universal Gives In To Trump

Some years ago, I wrote one blog post and then another about how Sony pulled from release the movie The Interview in which the CIA recruits a couple media personalities to assassinate Kim Jong Un. Now we find ourselves in a similar situation in which Universal has pulled its upcoming film The Hunt, in which rich liberals from the coasts hunt "deplorables" from the heartland for sport, after Twitter criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump.

(Given how the liberals are actually murdering people and I expect the "deplorables" to triumph in the end in typical Hollywood fashion, doesn't this mean the conservatives are the heroes and the liberals are the villains? Given how the main "rich liberal elites" I can think of are Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and other members of Kristol's "new class," wouldn't this be a case of Hollywood taking shots at itself?)

This is even more pathetic and cowardly on Universal's part than delaying The Interview (which was ultimately released, albeit for the most part not theatrically) was on the part of the theater companies who feared being held legally liable if someone did attack a movie theater screening the film and whose refusal to screen the film pushed Sny to delay and limit its release. North Korea has extensive hacking capabilities. It has sent agents abroad to kill and to kidnap people, the Korean community in Japan (where Sony is based) has a significant number of North Korean sympathizers who could cause problems, and in the absolute worst-case scenario, Japan itself is in easy weapons range of North Korea itself. North Korea has shown itself capable and willing of unleashing physical violence on critics abroad, especially in Asia. It's easy to call someone a coward from the safety of the East Coast of the United States; less so when one is relatively close to a country that functions like a real-life Bond villain, complete with participating in actual criminal activity like drug dealing. Although the likelihood of anything significant happening didn't seem particularly high (after all, the movie did ultimately get released and nothing happened beyond whining), at least there was precedent.

Donald Trump, however, is a paper tiger. The US's extensive free-speech protections stop him from preventing the movie from being screened, arresting the creative team or studio bosses, etc. Since The Hunt as far as I know makes no claims against him personally, he cannot sue for libel. He raged and fumed about the book Fire and Fury, threatening to sue for libel, but when the publisher refused to back down and released the book, nothing happened and the book ended up being number one on Amazon for a long time. And although Trump is often accused of inciting violence, no skinhead or red-hat type invaded the publisher's office with guns in the vein of the jihadi attack on the magazine Charlie Hebdo in France, nor did anybody attempt violence against Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during NFL games to protest police brutality. The worst I could imagine Trump doing is stirring up his supporters against Sony the way he stirred them up against the NFL and Kaepernick, but between people whose curiosity is roused by the controversy and people determined to see it to spite Trump (something I suspect is far more common among moviegoers than NFL fans who did reduce their football consumption over the issue), I could imagine even more people seeing the movie than they otherwise would have.

(If I were one of the people in charge of Universal, I'd be promoting the hell out of this as "the movie the president doesn't want you to see." But then again, if I get mad or feel threatened enough I can get a bit...abrasive.)

One would hope Universal releases the movie sometime later once the controversy about the recent mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso (another contributing factor, since this article doesn't reference Trump's complaints at all) has died down, hopefully using the controversy to its advantage in a more subtle fashion.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Tim Hawkins' Parody Songs About Chick-Fil-A

I was at a Horror Writers Association meeting the other day and a fellow group member showed me these two videos by Christian singer and comedian Tim Hawkins about none other than Chick-fil-A. Here's the first, parodying the Beatles' "Yesterday."

And here's another one, parodying Lee Greenwood's "God Bless The USA."

Is that Truett Cathy there at the end? :)

Monday, August 5, 2019

A Crossover Between THE THING and Dean Koontz's PHANTOMS?

One of the Facebook groups I follow is Stan Winston's School of Character Arts, which is always good for something interesting about movies, special effects, etc.

(When I was a little kid movie special effects was actually a field I wanted to go into and I remember reading a lot of books about it.)

The other day they had a poll on who would win, the alien Thing from 1982's The Thing and its eventual prequel or the Ancient Enemy from Dean Koontz's novel Phantoms, which was later adapted into a film starring Ben Affleck. The voting period has probably expired, but here it is b/c it includes snazzy monster GIFs.

For those of you not in the know, the Thing is an alien parasite that absorbs people and can take their appearance--its original form might be some kind of microorganism but as it infects people and absorbs their biomass it can create larger and larger creatures. The Ancient Enemy, meanwhile, is a gigantic amoeboid creature that might be thousands or even millions of years old. Every so often it emerges from underground and feeds, causing historical mass disappearances like Roanoke, ghost ships like the Marie Celeste, etc. In the novel one such creature consumes a mountain town in California and torments those who arrive to investigate, claiming to be Satan himself (a concept it had derived from the memories of people it had consumed). Both of them can spawn lesser creatures from a central biomass to use as weapons, scouts, etc., although the Ancient Enemy when it's all in one place is basically The Blob as well.

So me being me, I devised a crossover plotline for anybody out there who might want to write a fan-fic combining the two stories. Basically a follow-up expedition to the Antarctic base destroyed in The Thing finds the frozen remains of the alien and after taking appropriate precautions (based on journals at the American or Norwegian bases or the testimony of a surviving Childs or MacReady) they bring it back to a secure facility in America to study. If we want to include the characters from the Phantoms novel, perhaps it's in the mountain town where the book takes place at the time Dr. Jenny Paige and her younger sister Lisa are coming home.

Then the Ancient Enemy arrives and attacks the town. During the hubbub the Thing is set loose (perhaps it's been in a freezer for 15-20 years and gets defrosted when the facility is attacked) and the Ancient Enemy in its pride simply tries to eat it much like it does the humans and animals nearby or simply consumes a Thing-infected human not knowing it's any different.

Bad idea. The Thing is infectious at the microscopic level and it begins assimilating the Ancient Enemy from within. The Ancient Enemy detaches part of itself to avoid being completely consumed--in the novel the characters theorize that fire wouldn't be effective at killing it because it could simply break off the burning part--but this means the Thing has absorbed a significant part of the Ancient Enemy's biomass and probably much of its intelligence. It is now a vastly more dangerous foe. The Thing at the Antarctic base was a relatively small group of creatures of roughly human size whose power was in their deceptive ability--now we're talking something even bigger than the monster from the climax of the film and probably a great deal smarter. Meanwhile, the Ancient Enemy has absorbed the knowledge and memories of the scientists studying the Thing (and possibly some of the Thing's own intelligence as well) and knows that cold will force it into hibernation and fire will kill it.

So when the sisters, the surviving local law enforcement, etc. show up, the town is a war zone between an alien parasite that could potentially assimilate the entire planet in a matter of years versus a vindictive, massively egotistical giant amoeba whose insane pride drives it to avenge itself rather than return to hiding and simply wait out this strange new creature. The story could even feature an alliance between the Ancient Enemy and the humans, since the former needs the latter as a food source and only feeds every few centuries or millennia and the Thing is a voracious monster who will assimilate the whole planet if it can. In the film it showed no interest in trying to communicate or bargain with the human scientists in Antarctica, after all. The Ancient Enemy could initially appear to the humans as a survivor or survivors of the town and the humans eventually deduce it's not really human (this is where Dr. Flyte, the eccentric scientist who was able to deduce the Ancient Enemy's existence from studying historical disappearances, could come in) or it appears openly, either due to its pride or in an attempt to get the humans to trust it and not the other shape-shifting predator.

Anybody want to take this idea and run with it? I'm too busy with my own work and my day job to actually write something I can't make money on, but if someone does take a stab at this idea, I'll promote it.

(Also check out the Myopia podcast episode on The Thing. Maybe we'll do one on Phantoms later?)