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State of the Art

A diary of horror in Australia

Tabula Rasa#4: July - September, 1994

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Yeah, we're all victims
Eric Draven
The Crow
But if I were a mass murderer, I'd be Mickey and Mallory
Natural Born Killers

A strange period this time round, nothing much seemed to happen, except for the occasional very big event. Sad news predominates though with the deaths of Robert Bloch and Peter Cushing, both from cancer.

Robert Bloch is perhaps best known for being overshadowed by Alfred Hitchcock's version of Psycho, but he has had a great influence on the genre, both on paper and the screen. One of the few to bridge the gap between the Weird Tales generation and modern psychological horror, he has written over fifty books and four hundred short stories, including the famous Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper. He also has a large number of screenplays for film and television to his credit, and was the first winner of Grand Master Award for Life Achievement at the World Fantasy Convention in 1975. Due to his death coming close to publication, we'll run more details next issue.

One of the staple Hammer actors, among many different roles, Peter Cushing's speciality was a very real sense of dignity he brought to the hero figure. Of course, when he did play the villain, he excelled, and perhaps his best role was Baron Victor Frankenstein. He was the perfect man of science, and could hold his own against any monster, from Dracula to Daleks to Darth Vader, his own creation or not.

In other international news, Anne Rice has come out and says she now supports the Interview movie after a private screening. The shorts have started to appear, and they look pretty good to us.

Closer to home we should report that the mail just ain't safe. Prohibited Matter editor Rod Marsden had a letter addressed to him seized by customs and opened -- the seven line drawings 'depicting cruelty' inside were confiscated and passed on to the censorship board. Here, however, the matter was not prohibited and returned to Rod.

In the book shops recently we got new novels by Stephen King and Clive Barker, pretty big events we reckon. Insomnia is an interesting novel that is, again, the disintegration of a small town in Maine. It is certainly readable, but is also somewhat padded, and I think he's taking the concept of pre-destination a little too far. If you're a Dark Tower fan though, you won't want to miss this one. While Clive has been promising a number of huge multi-part epics, Everville is his first published sequel -- to The Great and Secret Show. We'll have a full review of it next issue, speaking of pre-destination.

Drawing Blood is the second novel of Poppy Z Brite after the enthusiastically received Lost Souls. You may have heard that three copies of the new book were sold for US$600 recently after being present at a rather spectacular suicide that took a post-office with it -- the books survived but were impregnated with the stench of burnt human flesh. The bookseller to whom they were mailed wrapped them in plastic and marked up the price. The local papers failed to mention that he was giving the proceeds to the owners of the post-office.

Other work out includes the local publication of Doorway to Eternity, three novellas by Sean Williams, who's doing well for himself. So is H. P. Lovecraft apparently, with Crawling Chaos -- selected works of the man, and Lovecraft's Book of Horror, edited by Stephen Jones and Dave Carson.

Recent interesting novels are Richard Christian Matheson's first, Created By, another from Nancy A Collin's, Wild Blood (about werewolves, this time) and an interesting looking volume, Grimscribe, by Thomas Ligotti, who comes much recommended. Kim Newman has been even busier with the release of a collection of his short stories The Incredible Dr Shade.

On the non-fiction shelf we got The Vampire Film, by Alaine Silver and James Ursini. What, another one? And a updated version of Cronenberg on Cronenberg, edited by Chris Rodley, that includes M Butterfly and is a really nice book.

On to movies, and have you noticed how nobody seems to be able to write a decent tag any more?

Best of the lot was probably Rolf de Heer's Bad Boy Bubby, a sort of coming-of-age serial-killer film about semantics and redemption. Surreal, credible, uncomp-romising, traumatic and a great deal of fun. It out Blissed Bliss and out-Stoned Natural Born Killers and just see it, okay?

Not that Natural Born Killers was a disappointing effort at all. In fact, Oliver Stone pulled the whole idea off, whether Tarantino liked it or not (yes, Quentin T was robbed of this film and had his name removed from the script-writing credits, but it's mostly his, and you can tell). But the over-the-top direction never became wanky and never killed the story. Juliette Lewis is carving quite a career for herself (and we do mean carving). As well as the recent thriller Romeo is Bleeding (also starring Gary Oldman) she did a remarkable and empathic job as half of the 'white-trash' pair of serial-killers in Kalifornia (Dominic Sena). This was a flawed look at the genre, mostly because of the awful voice-overs, but the excellent performances, including Brad Pitt as Ms Lewis' other half and even David Duchovny (as a friend said, it was looking like X-Files: The Movie for a while there) carried it off.

Ghost in the Machine (Rachel Talalay) was a flawed but quite enjoyable high-tech slasher, with the obligatory TPA (Twin Peaks actor) and Karen Allen (from Raiders) making a likeable hero. A nice surprise was the Australian noir comedy The Roly Poly Man -- nice because we've seen other Australian noir comedies that were just execrable. Directed by Bill Young and starring Paul Chubb, a giant slug and exploding heads, we can recommend this as a undemanding night out.

And then we come to The Crow and Wolf, the two genre movies of the moment. I don't actually like the comic from which The Crow was derived but the cinematic version was beautiful to watch and great to listen to (if you could find a theatre which played the sound properly). Brandon Lee looked remarkably un-silly and carried off the role well (maybe he'll be typecast playing dead guys now), and while the script didn't look at all the consequences of Eric Draven's actions it wasn't as pretentious as it could have been. Mind you, after reading scriptwriter David J Schow's novel The Shaft recently, I think he's wasted on the movies (not to mention he keeps having incredibly bad luck with them) -- his prose style is superb. Much Goth Rock (the musical highlight of the period was the soundtrack -- though from the screening NBK's is pretty impressive), decaying cathedrals and Crow-cam. Interestingly, the hero is never identified as 'The Crow' in the movie, leaving the title to refer to his feathered friend.

And further up the food chain, distinguished -- non-genre -- director Mike Nichols gave us a welcome nostalgia trip into the realm of the classic monster with Wolf. That's a little unfair because its setting and theme are very contemporary, but perhaps it worked best as simply a very enjoyable movie with one of the greats having lots of fun. A smart script, a good performance and a good character from Michelle Pfeiffer and just about everybody else. Not an effects movie, not even a horror movie, really, and the most interesting aspect was the positive portrayal of the wolf. Did you get the feeling that the change was a one-off, not a monthly metamorphosis (and that Jack knew exactly what was happening when he turned his back on the Yuppie-from-Hell at the end)?

On video we got nothing of much interest other than the small-screen appearance of True Romance. Straight-to-video we saw Birds II: Land's End, the sort of sequel that not only doesn't deliver the goods, but tries its best to stuff up the original. The director was given as Alan Smithee, one of the standard names used by a disappointed film-maker, in this case Rick Rosenthal. There was also a silly looking thing with Chuck Norris in it called Hellbound, and Scanner Cop (helmed by Cronenberg associate Pierre David) was a pretty ordinary and faintly ridiculous entry in a continuing series that isn't doing the original much credit at all. Somewhat unexpectedly, we got a third tomato movie, Killer Tomatoes Eat France (with John Astin). Wow. My Boyfriend's Back (originally titled Johnny Zombie) hit the shelves and looks like a vaguely interesting spoof on the zombie movie. But where's Return of the Living Dead 3 when you want it?

There was a large performance of the Carmina Burana at the Sydney Opera House -- though we actually saw an excellent production of it down at Wollongong Uni not too long ago.

Our window into the world, the television set, had a completely dismal time, with only a couple of good films for people without a video. Best on offer was an SBS screening of Argento's Deep Red (letterboxed and in Italian -- though still dubbed), though we're not sure if it's the whole piece. Also two good Hitchcock's, Rear Window and Vertigo, The Tenth Victim and Channel 10 showed all four Amityville movies for reasons best known to themselves. Buffy hit TV for the first time, plus Witchboard, Magic, Crypt of the Living Dead, The Cars that Ate Paris, an uneventful screening of Silence of the Lambs, Die, Monster Die! and the Corman Pit and the Pendulum -- plus about eight others we counted. Not a bad little selection, really, if a bit thin on the ground, which sums up the period in question nicely.


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