Necrotic Spring Cleaning

As a home owner, I have had to remove a broad range of dead critters from the property over the last couple of decades. The day we moved in, there was a dead baby bird on our doormat. On the roof, I discovered several years’ worth of raven and crow victims, and had to spend a couple of hours removing half-eaten pigeons and pigeon parts.

Then there was the dead mouse. And the dead rat. And fragments of a skull that likely once belonged to the squirrel prey of the predatory orange tabby that used to live next door. His kills were legion, and I still dread ever having a look at what might be stored and desiccated behind our backyard hedge.

With the spring thaw and the receding snow comes the revelation of the new crop of trash and remains that got buried in the winter. Today, I found a candidate for most exotic corpse yet excavated on my land.

A squid. An entire dead squid, about the size of my hand. I’ll be removing him once he finishes melting out of the layer of ice.

Bear in mind, I’m in Montreal. Miles from the water. And squids are not local.

Obviously, this came from a fish shop. I imagine someone bought it, decided they didn’t really know how to prepare it, and then threw it away once it started to go off. Then it got fished out of the trash by an animal looking for an easy meal. One of the squirrels, or perhaps another urban-wildlife scavenger, moved it to the side of my house before deciding it, too, didn’t fancy squid after all. At that point it was dropped in the snow, covered over, and preserved for me to discover in March.

So, y’know, yuck.

I’d rather have more chunks of pigeons to sweep off the roof. I am not looking forward to scraping up this slimy, gooey cephalopod. I’m also not looking forward to the flashbacks the next time I order a plate of calamari.

The Plagueis Dogs

“Damn you, 2016!” shouted the mountain range of cocaine and the ocean of alcohol ingested in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Snickering between themselves, they slunk away to the back of the gathered mournful crowd, who were again lamenting how the cursed year had robbed them of another celebrated celebrity.

Remember when Groucho Marx died within a few days of Elvis Presley? Everybody was so upset about the bloated icon, destroyed at a young age by an overindulgence in drugs and fatty foods, they paid no attention to the passing of a true master of the language and a writer of extraordinary wit and intelligence. Thankfully the internet allows us to act as our own media filter now and we can focus on the stories that matter most to us, if nobody else.

Richard Adams, it was announced today, died on Christmas Eve at the age of 96. Hardly unexpected so late in the game, it’s still a blow to fans of his classic novels such as Watership Down and The Plague Dogs. I was thinking of him only a couple of days ago, noting his advanced age on his Wikipedia entry, not realizing he was already dead. Like a lot of celebrities who are less in the public eye—writers in particular—word of their passing often comes days after the fact, once the family or representation issue a statement.

Watership Down remains one of my all-time favourite novels. I haven’t actually read The Plague Dogs because I saw the movie (adapted by the same animation studio that made the brutal film version of Watership) and it kicked the shit out of me. In my 40s. I recommend exposing your children to Adams’s animal-centric stories as early as you can. They’ll be traumatized in all the important ways children should be traumatized while preparing themselves for a vicious, merciless world.

But, of course, stealing all the headlines is a competing celebrity death that eclipses all others. Because she was in Star Wars.

I like Carrie Fisher. I’ve read a couple of her books. She was a reliable Hollywood script doctor and occasional actor, who showed up for mostly small roles in a variety of non-Star Wars related films. But let’s be honest. We’re mostly surprised she lasted this long.

Back when it was popular to do so, Carrie Fisher snorted ALL the coke. Drank ALL the booze. Did ALL the rehab. It’s astonishing she survived the 20th century at all. And even though she was the picture of health in Rogue One (it’s like she hadn’t aged at all), the fact that her body finally gave out in the wake of all her old bad habits should shock absolutely no one.

Callously, my greatest concern is how much rewriting this is going to inflict on the current trilogy. Not that there was much story to The Force Awakens, but if the writers have been doing their job and stepping up their game for episodes VIII and IX, Leia may have actually been part of a real character arc, now cut short. It’s a bad blow to the franchise in general and, I expect, Fisher in particular.

Here’s my fix:

Because Star Wars is all about fan service (and Richard Adams and The Plague Dogs is fresh in my mind), cast Fisher’s pet Gary the Dog as Darth Plagueis. Seriously. Gary is beloved, he’s creepy looking, and we haven’t seen Darth Plagueis on screen in a Star Wars movie yet, so they can cast ANYBODY. Disney, I’m talking to you. You want to protect your four billion dollar investment, you need to do shit like this. Or at least cast Gary in a Yoda prequel. He’s a natural. He’s a STAR. Much more so than whatshisface and whatshername or whosthatguy you’ve got filling in the slots of the next generation. Run with him.

People will love you for it, you’ll be doing Carrie a solid, and Gary will have the cash he needs to feed his Milkbone habit. I’m nothing if not a problem solver. You’re welcome.

In other news, Harrison Ford is still alive. He was in a plane crash, the Millennium Falcon tried to eat him, he was trampled by elephants, shot by John Hinkley Jr., blown up in the Hindenburg, stripped to the bone by ravenous piranhas…and that was just today. The man is accident prone, but nothing can kill him. Except maybe his role choices since the ‘80s.

One final note. A word of warning in these closing days.

You have not yet survived 2016.

2016 is still out there. Prowling. Waiting. Hungry.

Watch yourself.

The Angel of Celebrity Death

Selections for what to watch at my curated Movie Night have always been informed by celebrity deaths. Whenever someone famous kicks off, I like to send them out with a film to show the ignorant masses who they were and what they were famous for. Lately, I’ve been a tad too on the ball when it comes to who’s about to push up a daisy or two.

Three months ago, I anticipated the long-delayed death of Abe Vigoda so close to the event, I went out of my way to grab a screenshot from abevigoda.com less than 24 hours before the site had to finally tick over as to his live vs. dead status.

Well, it’s happened again.

Last Movie Night, a mere 18 hours ago, I forced the class to watch the 1982 Agatha Christie whodunit, Evil Under the Sun. It was directed by the fairly legendary Guy Hamilton. In case you’re not familiar with the name, he’s mostly remembered for being one of the early James Bond directors who helped define the series and turn it into the endless formulaic juggernaut is it today. It endures because it’s a formula that works, but it didn’t come to fruition until the third Bond film (Hamilton’s first), Goldfinger. That was the one that introduced such James Bond staples as: an unrelated opening action sequence, spy cars, Q’s contentious relationship with Bond, the definitive henchman, the definitive non-SPECTRE villain, multi Bond girls who get killed off before he gets to the real leading lady, and, of course, the winning over of a lesbian for the forces of hetrosexuality.

Guy Hamilton, 1922 - The Moment I Thought Too Hard About Him

Guy Hamilton, 1922 – 2016 (The Moment I Thought Too Hard About Him)

Obviously, Hamilton directed a whole bunch of other films. And they include the Hercule Poirot mystery, Evil Under the Sun, which was shot on the island of Majorca. Well, guess who just died on Majorca right after we watched that movie – possibly WHILE we were watching it.

I’ll admit, this is starting to freak me out. It’s like I’ve been imbued with some horrible superpower. I feel I might need to be put down like Tetsuo in Akira before it grows out of control. Already, I’m thinking about which celebrity I should will dead with the eerie force of my brain next. The thought has crossed other sinister minds as well.

“Next week: a Michael Bay film starring Adam Sandler,” is the first official request I’ve received.

And it’s tempting. I’ll kid myself that I’m using my power for good at first, but eventually I’ll start wiping out perfectly innocent celebrities who appear in terrible franchise films to help pay for their latest divorce. And if it comes to that, Hollywood will be a smouldering ruin by the time I’m done.

Tremble before me.

In related news, my dead-celebrity novella, Filmography, is due out soon. Rest assured, I invented a celebrity to kill off in that one. Perhaps I needn’t have bothered. You can’t libel the dead, and anyone still alive won’t stay that way long if I put my mind to it.

Following Filmography

My unhealthy obsession with dead celebrities has come to fruition. Filmography is a novella I wrote about a trio of film nerds who end up kidnapping the corpse of their favourite movie star in order to shoot one final opus with the deceased actor. It’s a sick and twisted comedy. If you’ve ever read more than three words here at Eyestrain Productions, you might have already anticipated the tone.

The book got picked up by Dark Passages Publishing for a May release in physical and e-formats. The listing and bio are up on their site, and have been for weeks, but this is my official homepage announcement.

FilmographyI’ve been meaning to get around to it for a while, but was finally inspired by the timely events of yesterday. What was so special about yesterday? It was Jerry Lewis’s 90th birthday of course. And it was Wednesday Movie Night. So therefore it was time to force everybody to watch The King of Comedy.

Martin Scorsese hasn’t made many comedies in his career – though, let’s face it, Taxi Driver is HILARIOUS. Jerry Lewis, on the other hand, has made boatloads. Most of them terrible. Combine these two entities and it was inevitable something truly fucked up would emerge. Such was The King of Comedy, the single most prescient satire of the film and television industry to come crawling out of the 1980s. Like Network from the decade before, it was off-putting and extreme in its day. Watch it now and you’ll realize, with a shiver, that not only have we arrived at that moment in time, we’ve gone a good deal past it. Much as Network anticipated Fox, Glenn Beck, and the nightly news spun as tawdry entertainment in the name of higher ratings, The King of Comedy anticipated stalker culture. At this point, if you’re a celebrity and you don’t have at least one or two stalkers slapped with a restraining order, you ain’t nobody. The King of Comedy asks you to identify with Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro), an outgoing, ambitious sociopath who doesn’t only want to chum around with his idol, he wants to replace him. In many ways, he’s creepier than Travis Bickle (also Robert De Niro), who merely wants to assassinate a celebrity

The fame phenomenon is a theme I keep coming back to in my work. I come from a city that notoriously doesn’t give much of a shit about celebrities. They come here to shoot movies, often with an over-compensating amount of security, and we (perhaps disappointingly) don’t mob them, don’t hassle them on the street, and don’t pester them for autographs and photos. Not unless they’re at an event arranged for just such a meet-and-greet. A certain respectful distance can be relied upon. Not so in many other places in the world, where famous faces have to hide under wigs and sunglasses, or stay indoors.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t fans here. And fans – serious fans – are odd animals. They can feel so close to people they’ve never met, remember more details about their lives and careers than the celebrities themselves do, and will mourn them like a loved one when they die. As the plot of Filmography points out: fans digging up dead celebrities has happened before. How long will it be before a group of idiots attempts exactly why my group of idiots do in this book? I’m a little shocked it hasn’t happened yet. In another decade, I may be just as shocked at how many times it has happened.

More major projects are on the way as the year progresses. Filmography may well prove to be only the first of three books I have coming out. Plus another four confirmed anthology short stories so far. Details, as always, will appear here. Hit the FOLLOW button on your right for email notices. Or follow me on Facebook. Or follow me on Twitter. Or follow me home and hide in the bushes while you peer through my window and watch me change into something more comfortable.

Inevitable

In one of the most profound tick overs since the date change on January 1st, 2000 and when an extra digit had to be added to the official U.S. debt clock, the websites, abevigoda.com and isabevigodadead.com, have had to change their status. After standing vigil for venerable character actor Abe Vigoda for years, watching over his current state of being so diligently, he has transitioned from a living state to a dead state. He died today at age 94.

But, like Baron von Munchausen, that was only one of his many deaths. Abe Vigoda was first declared dead by People Magazine in 1982. It was just a misprint, but it got the ball rolling. Since then, he has been declared dead more often than any other celebrity. Rumours of his demise, and shock that he was, in fact, still alive, abounded for decades until it became a widespread joke.avevigodaisdead

Vigoda was in on the joke. Although his film and television rolls diminished over the years, he made regular appearances on comedy shows to poke fun at the fact that, yes, he was alive and well, and yes, he was really really old.

I knew about his pending (real) death a few days ago, when I happened to read an update to his Wikipedia page. I was having one of my “How’s Abe doing?” moments and had to check. A member of his family had made a statement on Friday that he was dying – and dying soon.

It’s hard not to feel a certain morbid excitement about the event. I grew up watching Barney Miller, and The Godfather is among my favourite films. Abe Vigoda, with his alarmingly regular pronouncements of death, seemed to thumb his nose at mortality. He was the crown jewel of deadpools everywhere.

I’m fascinated by celebrity deaths – how so many people who know them, but don’t actually know them, come to mourn the loss of these famous strangers. Hell, I wrote an entire book on the subject (coming out later this year, announcement pending) and it’s not out of my system yet. I’ll be writing about this topic again, I know it. Because no matter how many beloved actors and musicians and politicians and artists and writers and reality-show narcissists snuff it, there are always legions more clinging to life.

In related news, Zsa Zsa Gabor is still alive.

The Unspeakable

There’s no nice way to say this. Corpses crap themselves, and steps must be taken. You don’t want a group of mourners standing around a casket with a “Who farted?” expression on their faces, only to realize, after exchanging accusatory glances, that the perpetrator was the one in the box. That’s not a final memory anybody wants of mom or dad or aunt Josephine.

Funeral science has, through much trial and error no doubt, developed the A.V. plug. It’s a plastic device that’s half screw, half butt plug, and is used to stop up one or more holes that might develop some unfortunate leakage before a corpse is safely planted in the ground. I know about these sorts of things because I’m morbid, but I’m not an expert. So when the A.V. plug came up as a recent topic of discussion, I felt compelled to ask around.

No, not these.

No, not these.

ACTUAL TRANSCRIPT OF THE SORT OF CONVERSATION THAT HAPPENS IN MY HOUSE:

Me (in all seriousness): Do you know what the A.V. stands for in A.V. plug?

Her: There’s two holes down there.

Me: Ah. I was hoping it stood for something classy like “alimentary viscera.”

Her: I’m eating.

Me (shutting up): Right.

Recent research (and by “research” I mean “roaming around the dark corners of the web looking for sick and twisted things”) led me to my new favourite website, The Order of the Good Death. It’s run by Los Angeles funeral director Caitlin Doughty, who is the author of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory and creator of the hilarious video series, Ask a Mortician.

I’ve long been aware of how the monopoly of modern funeral rites is ruining death for everyone, and it’s nice to see groups advocating alternatives a mere fifty-two years since Jessica Mitford wrote The American Way of Death, exposing the gouging that goes on in the industry.

I know this sort of thing is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it warms my cold jaded heart that the web provides such valuable information resources about the nitty-gritty that goes on behind the scenes whenever somebody’s loved one (or unloved one) snuffs it. Including what gets shoved up their ass.

I highly recommend you take time out from watching funny YouTube cat videos to watch some of Caitlin’s funny YouTube death videos. Spoiler alert: there’s a funny cat in some of them.

Caitlin Doughty and friend.

Caitlin Doughty and friend.

Pardon the shameless plug. Plug? Get it? Haw!

There are only three days left in The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories Kickstarter campaign. All goals have been met, but if you want to get your copies ahead of the rest of the world, this is your last chance.

Breaking Brutal

Unsurprisingly, I’m now officially a terrorist. Oh sure, the NSA and various other American alphabet-soup agencies are quick to label everyone a terrorist for anything these days. Left the toilet seat up? Terrorist. Didn’t replace the bog roll after using the last strip? Terrorist. Didn’t wash your hands after going to the bathroom? Terrorist (this one I agree with).

But now it’s Scotland Yard that’s designated me a terrorist. Why? Because I watched the James Foley beheading video recently released by ISIS as a warning against American military intervention in Syria. According to The Yard, merely watching this video can be considered an arrestable act of terrorism. I wish they’d tipped me off in advance, because I only found out about this decree five minutes too late when doing further research on the incident. Oopsie.

So why, exactly, did I go have a look at this horrible, brutal execution that’s so readily available on the Internet? I mean, other than the fact that I’m a morbid, twisted, sick fuck (obviously). Well, it seems I don’t like major media outlets offering me the latest justification for war while refusing to show me the specifics because it might offend my delicate sensibilities. I also don’t like governments telling me to avert my eyes and take their word for it when they try to sell me on a new war on a new front. They always place the ugly specifics of executions and war crimes on a need-to-know basis. Well, as it turns out, I’m a taxpayer in a democracy. So I need to know. I also need to not be patronized, condescended to, or subjected to state propaganda. But they do a lot of that just the same.

As I’ve mentioned via social media in the past, I have a checkered past with the Four Word Film Review site. They turned down some of the very best material I wrote for them. But I still like the format. Four words can convey a lot about a film. Here’s my four-word film review of the James Foley decapitation video:

Overproduced. Anticlimactic money shot.

Am I making light of the murder of a journalist? Nope. I wish the western news media would pay more attention to real journalists, out in the field, in war zones, getting killed in the line of duty. But they’re too busy pointing the camera at themselves in nice safe studios. You know them, these pretenders who aren’t real journalists, but play ones on TV. Posers like Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon, Jake Tapper, Wolf Blitzer and anyone who’s ever appeared on Fox News in any capacity whatsoever.

Look around on the Internet and you can find some truly horrific stuff to watch. I’ve written about it in past blog posts, and have already offered the various Islamic extremist groups my critique on their methods when it comes to documenting their own war crimes. I’ve offered no criticism about how they actually execute their fight against The Great Satan because I don’t know shit about IEDs. But I know a lot about film, so once again I have to speak my mind and explain to them, as patiently as I can, why their latest snuff film left me cold.

Okay, jihadists, listen up. I appreciate that you took some of my last round of notes on your decapitation videos seriously. I see a real effort to improve here. You got yourself a better camera. You bought a tripod. The video quality is very nice. So is the lighting (although, let’s face it, it’s the desert, so natural light is kinda plentiful). The audio is crisp, clear. Even the subtitles are well done and spelled correctly (Hong Kong film studios, take note!) But, sorry to say, you didn’t quite nail it this time. I know you thought you hit it out of the park, but this is only a second draft. And I have more notes.

First off, we’re not watching your snuff film to see a recap of Obama speeches. Admittedly, I find presidential speeches pretty scary. I see one, and I immediately flashback to the ‘80s when Ronald Reagan used to pre-empt The A-Team damn near every week with more bullshit. Troubling times. But most political speeches amount to little more than a talking head. We’re here to see heads roll, not talk.

And therein lies my most important note. The beheading. All this build-up and you tastefully cut away from the actual act. Tastefully cut away? For fucksake, you’re ISIS! You’re the guys al-Qaeda thinks are over the top! And you cut away from the deed like it’s a fade-out from a 1948 Hollywood love scene? Look, I would expect you to cut away from a love scene because sex and nudity and love aren’t exactly your cup of tea. But the execution of an infidel? You own that shit. It’s your thing.

I thought the point of this video was to warn America, to threaten all Americans everywhere, to strike fear into their hearts. Trust me on this one, if you’re going to shock America, you have to come up with something more gruesome than, say, any given episode of Game of Thrones. You know, like the one with the duel? And the teeth? And the squishy-squashy skull? That was AWESOME! This…this was not awesome.

Here’s your other problem: Because you didn’t show it, everybody in the conspiracy community thinks you faked it. They’ve gone through your video, bloodless frame by bloodless frame, and they’re calling bullshit. This is not your desired response, I’m sure. You want their reaction to be along the lines of one alternative news-media reporter who referred to the victim being “killed in the most brutal way imaginable.” Okay, clearly he either doesn’t have much imagination or he’s never read any history. He should look up scaphism some time (AKA The boats). Now that’s brutal. And another means of execution from your neck of the desert, I believe. See? You’ve excelled at brutality for thousands of years, so what’s with the no-budget found-footage mockumentary editing? I just don’t get it. Unless the conspiracy community is right and this is some false-flag op meant to escalate tension in the middle east and push for more conflict and military engagement, thereby diverting public attention from an impending global economic collapse.

Nah. I think you just fucked it up. I wouldn’t want to go believing the conspiracy theorists, because the fake reporters on CNN and Fox keep assuring me those people are CRAZY. And the mainstream media triple checks all of their facts and never lies about anything.

Also something in the news I just HAD to mention. Did you hear the one about the high-school student who got arrested for turning in a creative-writing class assignment with a fantastical reference to shooting a dinosaur with a gun? Obviously, everybody is required to lose their shit when any student mentions guns or shooting them. Because, well, think of the poor dinosaurs! That’s probably how they went extinct. I think I heard something about Noah shooting them and dumping them overboard when the last two dinosaurs made a light snack of the last two dodo birds. Something like that. I’ll have to double check my text book from that old Intelligent Design 101 class I sat in on.

If a teenager can get busted by the cops for writing something this innocuous as a school assignment, I’d hate to think what they would have done to me in grade three. I used to write some seriously hardboiled shit back when I was eight – gruesome detective fiction full of tawdry murders and crimes of passion. Then, for art class, I’d draw some mermaids with exposed breasts and my big black dog with an anatomically correct big red penis.

They’d probably sentence me to death by lethal injection – which, depending on which state is botching your execution, could be more brutal than most beheadings. Keep at it Oklahoma, and some day you might get your “humane” executions to last as long as the good old days of scaphism.