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State of the Art

A diary of horror in Australia

Tabula Rasa#1: September - December 1993

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I have only a trace of Indian blood, but even if I were a full-blooded Sioux. I think I would prefer to be hunted and exterminated as a feared enemy than be patronised by Hollywood as a weak, whimpering, idealised, politically correct victim. Mitakuye oyasin. All my relatives.
Dan Simmons on Dances With Wolves
Lovedeath -- foreword

The gods of my tribe have spoken. They said do not trust the pilgrims.

Wednesday Addams
As you are all probably aware, Vincent Price died of lung cancer on the 25th of October this year. The air of dignity he gave his villains was his greatest contribution to the genre and he will long be remembered as the horror actor of the mid-Twentieth Century. The man was also a great lover of art and food, a valuable collection of paintings and the publication of a successful cookbook being counted among his accomplishments.

Strangely enough, noted and prolific author Anthony Burgess died almost exactly a month later, also of cancer. As well as his most famous achievement he wrote some fifty novels, scores of non-fiction work, including his memoirs Little Wilson and Big God and You've Had Your Time, and composed a variety of different forms of music.

River Phoenix collapsed and died in front of a night club of a massive drug overdose on October 31st. His films have included Rob Reiner's Stand By Me (1986) and My Own Private Idaho (Gus Van Sant, 1991). At the time of his death he was filming George Sluizer's new one, Dark Blood, subsequently cancelled, and was also slated for the reporter in Neil Jordan's Interview with the Vampire.

* * *

Which brings us to Tom Cruise, whose winning the role of Lestat didn't find much sympathy amongst fans of Anne Rice's novels. Indeed the author made herself rather vocal in opposition, and Cruise wasn't helping anything by apparently forcing the downplaying of homosexual overtones in the script. All we can say is, buy the book before the movie edition comes out.

* * *

In a story the tabloids must have prayed for, two eleven-year-olds were convicted of the murder of a toddler recently. And horror seems to be getting the blame -- a claim based on one child's family renting Child's Play III some weeks before the murder, an incident blown out of proportion by such headlines as 'Evil Video' (Daily Tele Mirror) and 'Horror for hire brings home blood, gore, violent death' (SMH).

Serial Killer buffs are probably having all sorts of fun following goings on in the Belangalo State Forest, though our local buff describes the media circus surrounding it all as pretty dreadful. And Silence of the Lambs is mentioned again and again.

* * *

Christina Ricci was in Australia recently. What she was doing here is anybody's guess, as Hey Hey It's Saturday's interview with her was about as inept a piece of journalism as you could ever hope to find.

* * *

Better news comes from the bookshelf with new work from three of the biggest names around. Lasher is Anne Rice's follow-up to The Witching Hour, a worthy successor in that it is beautifully written and very long -- recommended. Dan Simmons hasn't really seemed to 'click' for a while, but we have high hopes for Lovedeath, a book of five novellas exploring those two themes. Nightmares And Dreamscapes, however, was the disappointment of the season. While there has been much debate over the worth of Stephen King's latest novels they are, at the very least, a lot more interesting than this mishmash of mostly pointless stories.

Shrieks is a new anthology of horror by Australian women, edited by Jillian Bartlett, Cathi Joseph and Anne Lawson. It's a good sign of the continuing success of our publishing industry, but are there any actual copies out there?

Dean R Koontz has a new book out as well, Mr Murder, and Neil Gaiman fans were well served with the arrival of Angels and Visitations, a 'miscellany' of short stories, poems, reviews and other stuff. Also the new Year's Best Fantasy and Horror is out, and don't we wish we had the time to read it? We did notice Intimate Armageddons got itself a mention in Ellen Datlow's overview of the year, and speaking of getting mentioned, Leigh Blackmore has a couple of quotes in the new Clive Barker critique, Shadows in Eden. Mark Frost, co-creator of Twin Peaks has his first novel out, The List of 7, which is getting lots of good reviews, as is Kim Newman's Anno Dracula. Peter Haining has released another rehas... ah, anthology with The Television Late Night Horror Omnibus, actually a useful and good looking book -- a full review will turn up next issue.

In non-fiction, we got The Stephen King Companion (what, another one?) from George Beahm, The Vampire Companion for Anne Rice fans, by Katherine Ramsland (she who did the biography), Broken Mirrors/ Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento by Mark Kermode (hey, wait a sec, this was out in Britain in '91) and The Marquis de Sade: A Biography, which the Sydney Morning Herald didn't like very much.

* * *

Onto movies, and Needful Things (Fraser C Heston) was the first real horror film to hit Australian cinemas since June. Yes, we know the book was almost unfilmable, but that's really no excuse for such a tepid production. Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (Adam Marcus) was actually more interesting, though (and being ninth in a series can't help) not much more. With a plot from The Hidden, elements that seemed more at home in the Halloween series and a almost painfully self-conscious tongue-in-cheek attitude it still gets marks for being unassuming and entertaining. Certainly the audience at our session reacted in all the right ways. Somewhat more popular was Barry Sonnenfeld's Addams Family Values. Forget continuity, pacing, internal logic, it still had some great moments -- mostly provided by Christina Ricci (to the detriment of the remaining family). And while it's still not as good as the TV show, (mainly because John and Carolyn are irreplaceable) we shouldn't complain too much -- it was a pretty good movie. The quote opposite is an approximation -- don't you hate scribbling quotes in close-to-pitch darkness?

As well as these, a lot of interesting things were happening in the fringes of the genre. Pier Pasolini's Salo (1975) finished it's run at the Academy Twin in Sydney, moving down to the Canberra Boulevard Twin. Apparently this change of location was nothing to do with falling audience numbers (though numbers fell steadily throughout the screening we saw) but to a change in the ownership of the Academy to more squeamish hands. Reservoir Dogs is having no such trouble, however, and is still doing well.

About bloody time, you could be justified in saying as we finally saw David Lynch's Fire Walk with Me (1992), just about a year after everybody else got it (though the keen could check it out at a Twin Peaks Night some months ago at the Hellfire Club, a Sydney S&M nightclub). While we can be grateful it got a theatrical release at all, Village certainly wasn't falling over itself to let anybody know it was on (not even putting the shorts in front of Boxing Helena). The movie itself was... Twin Peaks, really, and well worth the watching, though we can't really say that Laura's eventual death was as traumatic as Maggie Ferguson's from the series. And as for the Jennifer Lynch movie, which shared little similarity to FWWM bar a frosty reception from the critics, it turned out to be nowhere near as bad or horrific as we'd been led to believe. And does anyone really think Kim Bassinger could have carried off the role of Helena?

Bedevil (Tracey Moffatt) is a trio of Australian ghost stories centring around Aboriginal mythos. It comes recommended.

So I Married an Axe Murderer (Thomas Schlamme) was a somewhat pointless but nonetheless worthwhile way to spend an hour or two, and similarly The Assassin (directed by John Badham, whose extensive credits include the 1979 Dracula) wasn't too bad, if essentially fluff, but try to get hold of a (non-dubbed) copy of Nikita (Luc Besson, 1990) instead.

In town promoting his product was Lloyd Kaufman, and the Valhalla Cinema screened a Troma festival headlined by Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD (Kaufman and Michael Herz, 1990). The opening night was entertaining enough, with Lloyd offering prizes for the best way of regurgitating a banana with the Toxic Avenger and Sgt. Kabukiman on hand. This was all part of the Troma 2000 initiative to improve distribution of their product into Australia, and Dead Dudes in the House (well directed by J Riffel, 1988), Warriors of the Demon Sword (Fred Olen Ray, 1990) and A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell (Brett Piper, 1990, sorry Lloyd, it wasn't that good) have just hit a video store near you.

Also on the small screen, Bernard Rose's Candyman (1992), Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) and Sam Raimi's Army of Darkness (1993) all made their inevitable move onto video. We got the chance to see the new British Frankenstein (David Wickes, 1993) and the mini-series of Tommyknockers (John Power, 1993), both being passable if nothing more, and we even got the chance to see Roger Corman himself in the introduction of Dracula Rising (Fred Gallo, 1992). Supposedly a follow-up to his own Frankenstein Unbound (1990) it showed little of the style (or, methinks, sheer gall) that made the original so watchable. Highly recommended is Michael Tolken's The Rapture (1991), and Deep Cover (Bill Duke, 1992), which he co-wrote, is pretty good.

* * *

There's not much of anything worth watching on television lately, let alone good horror material, with the strange exception of the first two weeks of December with The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932), Hellraiser (Clive Barker, 1987), Stand By Me (Rob Reiner, 1986 -- for River undoubtedly), The Devils (Ken Russell, 1971 and Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968). Wow. Apart from that, even Hallowe'en garnered nothing more than Munsters Go Home and Halloween with the Addams Family. We also got the chance to see (at least bits of) Friday the Thirteenth Part IV, V and VI to tie in with Jason Goes to Hell (following on from III back in August), The Addams Family to tie in with the sequel, Hammer's seminal Curse of Frankenstein (Terence Fisher, 1957) and, best of all, Roman Polanski's fun-filled flick The Tenant (1976). Alas, SBS's Friday night creature feature lasted a real short time. Eerie Indiana (the original Twin Peaks rip-off) and Freddy's Nightmares have both turned up in the graveyard slot; we didn't see Eerie, and we wish we hadn't seen Freddy.

Believe it or not, but staged fright is having a really good run at the moment. Firstly Phantom of the Opera made it's way up to Sydney a while ago after the producers thought they needed a change of scenery. We're told the crowd-drawing properties of the musical (which really is worth seeing) have adversely affected other productions, but there's still plenty of activity, perhaps more so just prior to this diary's inception date. Here it's mostly classical, starting with Don Giovanni (Lindy Hume), an opera by Mozart in which the hero is dragged down to hell in a marvellously staged finalé, and The Golem (Barrie Kosky), the premiere season of Larry Sitsky and Gwen Harwood's operatic adaptation of the traditional Jewish horror story. Barrie Kosky has obviously been busy, as he followed that one up with The Dybbuk and Es Brent in quick succession. These are again adaptions of traditional Jewish tales, the first about four dead theatre troupe members, 'drawn from' the 1920 play by S Anski, and the second running under the byline 'Is Satan the only one who will defend God!'.

* * *

The most popular incarnation of horror (trappings, at least) of late is quite possibly Meat Loaf's new album Bat out of Hell II: Back into Hell, and who would have believed that six months ago? The single I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That) became the top selling single of the year, though perhaps more through the current malaise of the industry than anything else. Mr Aday was in Sydney on tour in October.

Michael Crawford was also here recently with a number one CD, A Touch of Music in the Night, capitalising on his success as the lead in the English Phantom. Media reports, however, seemed to concentrate on his days in Some Mothers do Have 'Em.

* * *

Horror hasn't had too bad a run in the papers recently. Who Magazine continues to offset its normal who's-marrying-who in Hollywood style with the occasional interesting article, and have recently had interviews with Jennifer Lynch, Anne Rice and Christina Ricci (along with an extremely worrying (read superb) photo), the inevitable articles on Vincent Price and River Phoenix as well as covering the Tom Cruise controversy. Their list of 'Intriguing people of 1993' included Harvey Keitel ('she's not dead') and Jacqueline McKenzie from Romper Stomper. Of course, everyone had obits of Vincent, the Tele Mirror being the best of the dailies, the SMH and the Australian taken from the same source. Mia Farrow, best known to fright fans as the star of Rosemary's Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968) got some coverage with the resolution of the court case with Woody Allen. The SMH had interviews with Peter Weir, Anthony Hopkins, and a Roman Polanski article which was an interesting retelling of his 'problems with American justice'. And I suppose the most telling indication of the difference between the more popular of the papers is that while the Daily Telegraph Mirror had veritably huge ads for Jason Goes to Hell, there was simply no mention of the film at all in the Herald.

By now you've probably seen the first issue of Chris Master's Bloodsongs, in a newsagent near you, and the best of luck to him.

* * *

Censorship has been in the news lately, and the noose is tightening with regulations coming into force on the 6th of September involving the rating of television programs, and the restriction of 'Mature Adult' content to after 9 pm. Speaking of restrictions, you may have noticed the similar MA cinema rating which precludes children under fifteen from watching such a movie, unless accompanied by a guardian. This will be applied to films previously at the high end of the 'M' rating, not the low end of the 'R'. The first movie to gain an MA was Laws of Gravity, which we can't say we've actually heard of.

A victory, however, was achieved by the film Orlando, the lavish production based on Virginia Woolf's novel. In a season that started on September 4th it became the first time Japanese censors have allowed pubic hair to be displayed on screen [76].

And finally, Fred Nile was doing his own bit for the cause. Confined to a wheelchair after a slight accident on parliament steps he struggled into the chambers to argue against the NSW Homosexual Vilification Act, and only managed to show just how ridiculous his own brand of hatred can be.


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