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Tabula Rasa

State of the Art

A diary of horror in Australia

Tabula Rasa#7: April - June, 1995

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Alice cried
The dream has died
Australian Crawl
Assault weapons don't kill people... people who watch Quentin Tarantino movies kill people.
US Senator Bob Dole

Well, we wouldn't vote for him.

This quarter gathered momentum exponentially, so much so that in the last week we got three big movies, a new Stephen King novel and a new bookshop, just to list the main attractions. The fact that we're supposed to be getting this 'zine out obviously hadn't occurred to the various distributors. Still, it's been fun.

Which brings us via odd paths to the death notices. Prolific actor Bruno Lawrence, most recently seen on Australian TV as the producer in Front Line, died recently. Horror fans should remember him as the lead in Geoff Murphy's excellent film The Quiet Earth. TV actor Elizabeth Montgomery passed away in May, of most note for the decidedly non-horrific Bewitched, though some her darker roles included a Nurse Ratchet figure in Amos and a homicidal matriarch in Sins of the Mother.

There were actually rumours spreading last week that Neil Gaiman had died, after returning from the funeral of noted SF author Roger Zelanzy. These were unfounded, but as far as we know his most famous creation, Morpheus of the Endless, is. The funeral is proceeding in an... orderly fashion. Maybe.

The local news is all literary, with Ellen Datlow in town promoting her new anthologies Little Deaths and the forthcoming Off Limits. A vital and energetic figure in the scene, she proved most approachable at the signing session held at Galaxy.

And the flagship of the Dymock's chain in Sydney has just opened a new 'sub-shop' in the basement on George Street. Devoted to SF, Fantasy and Horror, it is being managed by the redoubtable Leigh Blackmore who has stocked his shelves with a genuinely intriguing range, including possibly the best collection of Lovecraft this side of the dateline. The Australian section is huge, and the store is recommended for anyone not just caught up in the current fads.

Less locally, Bucharest recently hosted the inaugural World Dracula Congress, set up to discuss the novel and Vlad Tepes in general. Whilst most of the attendants were scholars, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro was the only fiction writer invited.


Adding to those shelves is Terry Dowling's An Intimate Knowledge of the Night, a new horror anthology from this noted SF author. This was also launched at Galaxy and the story read by the author, The Bullet that Grows in the Gun was chilling. Someone get this guy an audio contract.

Meanwhile, it has been suggested that in these uncertain times the future of horror publishing is in the hands of White Wolf, who made their fortune with the Vampire RPG... As well as tie-in in novels such as World of Darkness: Vampire, Netherworld by Richard Lee Byers (She had been murdered. And the worst part was she wasn't dead!), they are producing top-class horror anthologies such as Dark Destinies (edited by Edward E Kramer) and Tombs (Edward E Kramer and Peter Crowther -- we want this one), as well as reprinting the Sonja Blue Collection of Nancy A Collins, and have also been buying the rights to Harlan Ellison's and Michael Moorcock's backlist. Their current submission guidelines specify complete manuscripts, not related to roleplaying.

Speaking of Sonja Blue, there is a new novel out, Paint it Black. Charles L Grant has had two out, his second X-Files novel Whirlwind (excuse us if we don't get too excited by this -- we've read the first) and the straight horror/nasty house novel The Tea Party.

Just to confuse matters, Dennis Etchison's California Gothic has hit Galaxy -- this is the US edition, whereas Raven publishing is putting out the English edition later this year). Tanith Lee produced Vivia, and Poppy Z Brite's collection Swamp Foetus finally arrived in Sydney, and Dean R Koontz is mapping Strange Highways.

And while The X-Files have dived into the fiction market, some shows have been a little slower. The author of the Night Stalker programme guide, Mark Dawidziak, has produced the latest in a series of Kolchak novels, Grave Secrets.

And of course there's a new Stephen King book out, Rose Madder. We haven't read this one yet, but it follows the recent themes of his fiction and we've heard at least one highly enthusiastic review.

In non-fiction, we got the lavish coffin-table book Journal of a Ghost Hunter, in search of the Undead from Ireland to Transylvania, by Simon Marsden, who has previously photographed Phantom of the Isles and The Haunted Realm.

Comics and Magazines

Well, as we've mentioned, recent events of Sandman came to their conclusion, leading to a somewhat final confrontation between Dream and Death. The comic has only another five or so issues remaining to wrap it all up.

Still with Vertigo, Pat McGreal and David Rawson seem to be attempting a similar historical epic as Alan Moore's From Hell with their Chiaroscuro: The Private Lives of Leonardo da Vinci. Trouble is, it's not working very well.

Meanwhile, Dark Horse is bringing out Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor, containing some excellent adaptations of his stories, framed by the man himself. The main trouble with this comic is that the centrepiece -- an adaptation of I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream -- is being drawn out over four issues and is just badly done. Otherwise, worth checking out.

With #4, Bloodsongs has now seemed to settle down into a distinctive and lively format with excellent presentation. Highlights of this issue are the full on Gothic/ Historical Vampire fest, Thirst, the Joe R Lansdale interview, Rob Hood's Zombie article that is proving to be highly comprehensive and fun, Michael Helm's column, as usual. In fact, with a good and varied selection of regular columns, including the reviews (stick to your opinions, Steve!), it's a solid production that looks like it's going to last. This time round only the comic didn't really work -- Chris Sequeira has done some great work like Pulse of Darkness, but this one was just too... short. Otherwise, an excellent issue. Ellen Datlow, Karl Edward Wagner and many other things are in #5, out now.


Lots and lots of movies. Of interest were such things as Luc Besson's The Professional, which had a few problems in plot but was in general an excellent and quite intelligent look at a young girl learning the hitman's trade. Exit to Eden, however, wasn't an excellent or intelligent look at anything -- including Paul Mercurio. But it did turn out to be entertaining, and even if it didn't explore the S&M mentality it broached the subject. Maybe it helps if you haven't read the book.

Roger Avary's Killing Zoe saw him coming out from Quentin's credit list with his own project. Whilst well-made, it all turned out to be reasonably pointless, and several efforts at pop sensibility seemed all too obvious. One name that sprung out of the end-credits was Tom Savini, sharing the make-up chores with one of his offspring.

More big budget comic adaptations hit the screen. First up there was the pre-teen answer to Nekromantic, Brad Siberling's Casper. Whilst certainly a kid's movie it was entertaining enough, and more morbid than some were expecting. The two leads carried it off, Christina Ricci back in a haunted house (with better architecture!) and Bill Pullman giving up Haitian zombies for ghosts. Tank Girl, Rachel Talalay's best movie, also hit the right buttons for an entertaining evening, if nowhere near as anarchistic as its source. Lori Petty, from Warlock, is picking all sorts of interesting roles these days. And then there was Batman Forever, sans Tim Burton (he did produce), which turned out to be extremely messy and... inept. At least Arkham Asylum made an appearance, and some of the character interaction was quite good. Joel Shumacher has made better than this, just the latest in a troubled and over-ambitious series.

Tim Burton was making Ed Wood instead. Based on Rudolph Grey's fascinating Nightmare of Ecstasy, it was certainly a simplification, as well avoiding the lows of Wood's life and career, but was nevertheless an excellent portrayal of a lively and completely weird group of people doing silly things, and good on them. And it all happened (except for the Orson Welles bit). Vampira was great, Bela Lugosi's portrayal was just superb, and Edward D Wood Jnr. was played with enthusiasm and a look of wonder. We tried to rent Plan 9 immediately.

On a more serious note, Metal Skin is Geoffrey Wright's second feature after Romper Stomper, the movie that was 'a God-send to defence lawyers everywhere', in his own words. Now he'll probably be blamed for drag-racing. Metal Skin is more diffuse in character and situation, but just as emotionally intense, and the landscape is as devastating as any post-apocalyptic nightmare. It also gets points for a non-condescending Satanist subplot. Aden Young was excellent, Tara Morice unrecognisable, and we even got used to Ben Mendelsohn with long hair. Good stuff.

We also got the chance to spend two desolate nights with Roman Polanski of late. In the first he played Inspector 'Leonardo da Vinci' opposite Gerard Depardieu in Giuseppe Tornatore's Une Pure Formaltie. Giuseppe swears he doesn't know why people keep mentioning something called The Twilight Zone, but we do. Recommended. And then, there was Death and the Maiden.

Polanski's first directorial project since Bitter Moon (various Hugh Grant jokes come to mind), it absolutely sweeps the competition for what you can do with three people stranded for the night in an isolated house. Harrowing for all the right reasons, ie. the characters, it maintains a constant pitch of suspense. The screenplay was co-written by Rafael Yglesias, author and adaptor of Fearless, and again the script manages to create a resolution from an impossible situation. Highly recommended.

Actually, we only got two pure-bred horror movies, and both sequels. But with Wes Craven's New Nightmare, who's complaining? Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh turned up in the late night slot with no advertising whatsoever. This might have been because it wasn't very good; a terrible shame about the Candyman movies, they have some brilliant elements and look gorgeous, but just fall apart. We must mention the New Orleans location during Carnivale was incredibly effective -- again, what a waste!

And now, a film which featured the director as himself, writing a movie called Wes Craven's New Nightmare, that uncannily foreshadows the events in the film undergone by the actress who plays the heroine while doctors and critics blame its influence for the recent rash of violence -- most novels couldn't get away with this! It is our considered opinion he did. And metaphysics aside, this managed to scare us. 'And if you look out the window, across the highway, our home is just over there' -- aargh! Our only complaint might be that the new Freddy looked more fake than the old one; but let's face it; this and Interview With The Vampire are the best wide-release genre movies since 1991.

The funny thing is, that New Nightmare didn't seem to raise a ripple about violence and horror. The films that have been bearing the brunt of the arguments are Mel Gibson's historical drama/bloodbath Braveheart, and of all things, Casper. The latter got the condemnation of the American Medical Association, and the Catholic Church is worrying about Priest. Despite this recommendation, we haven't seen it.


And in the increasingly important category of straight-to-video release, The Lurking Fear, by C. Courtney Joyner for Full Moon, demonstrated yet again that although Lovecraft stories have great plots, impressive visuals and some superb characters (usually in the last stages of disintegration), people just can't seem to make movies of them. Okay, wonderful-looking Lurkers. But why the gangster subplot, why the Rambette (almost convincingly played by Hellraiser's Ashley Lauren(ce)), and why the complete and total ignorance of suspense? Still, its competition is Silence of the Hams, of which even its star despairs. Ezio Greggio never stop throwing the gags at the audience, it's just that none of them were particularly funny. Billy Zane is always good value, but that's as far as it goes.

We may see The Langoliers miniseries on TV one day, but we might as well enjoy it without the ads first -- it's already way too loong. I've always thought a novella was the perfect length for a movie adaptation, but three hours for this particular novella was pushing it. There were some nice moments, like Dinah sacrificing Mr Toomey, and the critters were cute when they arrived (that's not necessarily a good thing).

Otherwise, we got Interview, Serial Mom, Pulp Fiction and NBK. We also managed to catch up with John Dahl's The Last Seduction (only recently reaching cinematic release in its home country), a truly twisted tale, a criminal investigation going backwards. Excellent performances by Linda Florentino and Bill Pullman again.


Okay, The X-Files. During its second year, this show has managed to repeat its trick of turning into something strange and wonderful halfway through the season. Some of our favourites; Excelsius Dei, the Alzheimer's patients in the haunted nursing home, Irresistible, the grave desecration one, and then there was Die Hand die Verletzt (with the snake), which was just so much fun. The third season has been confirmed.

Have you ever noticed how the same horror films just keep turning up on the same channels? We have. No problem with using your license, but are they buying new ones? Well, with Army of Darkness and Pet Semetary -- a strange double -- the answer's yes. And who's complaining about seeing Psycho, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and The Curse of the Werewolf again anyway? But the highlight of the quarter was undoubtedly the screening of Naked in the final week. Even if it was 'slightly modified' for television.

The Bad Seed was a quite effective little thing, if a bit odd; The Godsend is another Nasty Child story, and in the strange Swedish film The Johnsons, we got seven of them. The Tommyknockers DID finally make its TV debut; not one of the better mini-series, but interesting in its way.

There were quite a number of interesting documentaries, including the 'authorised biography' of Nick Cave, a repeat of the Masterpiece feature on Frankenstein, a two-part series on the funeral ceremonies using the Tibetan Book of the Dead -- narrated by Leonard Cohen -- in what must have been somebody's brilliant idea. A genuinely horrifying experience was the exposé on the poison gas and endurance experiments conducted by the British government on their own soldiers at the Porton Downs farm after World War II. They filmed the experiments and someone managed to get hold of the footage. The Ed Wood doco Look back in Angora was also pretty unnerving.


What on earth is this obsession with Kafka among local playwrights? We guess it springs from somebody's uni class, and the latest example is Alan Docker's satire Kafka's Dick. Meanwhile, Nigel Kellaway is doing his best to scare his audience in the simply-named Fright. This production was meant to explore the theatre's resources in producing terror, featuring steak knives and people hanging from the ceiling. Nonetheless, the reviews we heard weren't very complimentary.

There was also a local production of John Webster's classical Elizabethan splatterfest The Duchess of Malfi, as mentioned last issue, and to continue the classical motif, Roger Joyce is presenting Thyestes -- A Vile Feast, a play about cannibalism by the Roman playwright Seneca around 40 AD.


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