The Sounds of Terror

We’ve been doing nearly a month of fright-themed radio shows on Cinema Smackdown for Halloween. Check out these recent episodes for topical topics, including horror themes of past movie nights, quality horror movies from the 1980s that not enough people are nostalgic for, and the cautionary tale of what’s become of Roger Avary’s career.

Okay, that last one isn’t really Halloween Horror, but it’s still pretty scary.

Meanwhile, on the novel front, some of my creepy books like Necropolis, Filmography, and Hot Pennies are all free on Amazon for Kindle and Kindle Unlimited. This is for Halloween only, so you have until 3:00 am to grab them.

I Got a Brudda

Sid Haig died a few days ago.

He was one of the few actors I ever pursued getting a signed 8×10 glossy of. It was done by mail order, and I got it personalized with the obscure line of dialogue, “I got a brudda.”

It was so obscure, I wondered if Sid would even remember it from his long career.

But of course he had to. It was a line delivered to Sean Connery in Diamonds Are Forever. A statement so stupid, even the unflappable James Bond was taken aback. How do you forget that luminary moment from screen history? I know it certainly stuck with me from childhood.

His late-stage career revival came largely through the films of Rob Zombie. And even though I despise Rob Zombie’s movies, Sid is great in them. I was vastly more pleased to see him appear in the opening scene of S. Craig Zahler’s Bone Tomahawk, and was hoping there would be more collaborations between the two of them, much as Udo Kier has become a staple of Zahler’s work. Alas, it was not to be.

I followed the story of Sid’s recent trip to intensive care following an accident, his near-death experience, and hopeful signs of recovery. But then word of his death hit.

We’ve lost another classic genre star. Sid was 80 years old.

The Floor Show

I have been to the Montreal Comiccon and I no longer fear hell.

The Palais des congrès, also known as the Lite-Brite convention centre due to its design atrocities and crimes against aesthetics, is conveniently located right on top of the Place des Arms metro station. Last Saturday, I came spilling out of the turnstile wearing my new Necropolis t-shirt with a QR Code on the back (or, as I call it to be technical, “blocky-blobby-stupid-phone-thingie”). The idea was to walk around the comic convention for twelve hours straight and see how many people would scan me and get directed to the Amazon book page. This, I was certain, was a terrible idea.

It was first thing in the morning, on the big middle day of the three-day show. And there were already thousands upon thousands of people there. It had been a while since I’d done a comic convention, but I recognized the usual misshapen body types, along with a phenomenon new to me since the last time I’d attempted an appearance. Never before have I seen so many tatted-up scrawny nerds. I’m used to seeing tattoos on people with more meat on their bones. Some of these kids looked like they weighed 98 pounds soaking wet, but were sporting the kind of ink you usually need to do ten years in a supermax to earn. They don’t make comic-book geeks like they used to.

Despite my comic background street-cred, I felt like an outsider. I was the sweaty middle-aged dude, grumpy about the early hour, dying in the July heat, eager to get into some air conditioning only to find it negated by so many human bodies packed shoulder-to-shoulder.

“I’m in the entirely wrong line to buy tickets, aren’t I?” I said, once I’d spent half an hour following the incorrect flood of people, spurred on by the convention centre attendants demanding “Avance! Avance!” at all the tourists who didn’t understand French.

The girl at the ticket-check smiled sympathetically and directed me outside to a whole other line for kiosks that weren’t even operational when I first passed them, forty minutes past the supposed opening time of the show.

Great start.

At least I didn’t need to be anywhere. The main point of the excursion was to get that QR Code in front of as many people as possible. And the people just kept coming. Surely some of the bored attendees in the queue would whip out their phones and scan my intriguing shirt to pass the time.

Once I was inside, one $55 ticket later, I took some time trying to get my bearings in the enormous hall. It’s always nice to pay that kind of money to get into a venue filled with nothing but people selling things for even more money. I stopped by the closest booth, and any illusions I had about not belonging there were dispelled immediately when I caught a father asking about the identity of a superhero Lego minifig on behalf of his young son.

“I don’t know all the DC guys,” apologized the shopkeeper.

“That’s Dr. Fate,” I said, feeling a certain shame in knowing that.

I was thanked profusely, yet still felt dirty.

I don’t know why I ever bother to feel dirty about knowing geek stuff or flogging my wares. If I was dirty, then everyone else there was absolutely filthy. Particularly the celebrity guests.

Yeah, I know it’s standard for them to charge for photos and autographs, but dammit Elijah Wood, you starred in three of the biggest movies ever made. Didn’t you save some of that cash?

$95 for an autograph, another $95 for a selfie? A selfie! That’s right, for $95 you have to take your own damn picture. Nobody will even press the button for you. Fuck you, Frodo! Can’t you at least get your bitch, Samwise, to handle somebody’s camera for them while they’re paying your exorbitant fee? It’s not like you’d even have to give him a cut. He’d probably do it all day long for a thimbleful of mead, a turnip, and a pat on the head.

Okay, I’ll try to give the guy a break. He’s been making a lot of indie films for the love of his craft lately, and I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore was my favourite film of 2017. But damn dude, even working for scale on all those projects has to add up.

At least I know who Elijah Wood is. And Lou Ferrigno. And Christopher Lambert. Some of the other guests? No so much. Describing them as celebrities is a use of the word “celebrity” I am unfamiliar with. Take it from a old pro, not everybody who appears on a TV show is famous. Or the least bit notable.

As I wandered up and down the aisles, looking at all the merch for sale, and marvelling on the rare occasion I spotted actual comic books, I quickly filled up my Bingo scorecard of cosplayers.

Darth Fatty? Check. Unintimidating average-height Michael Meyers? Check. Damaged girl dressed as Harley Quinn? Check.

Check. Check.

Checkcheckcheckcheckcheckcheckcheckcheckcheckcheckcheckcheck.

Goddamn, that’s a lot of Harley Quinns.

On a related note: ladies, if you’re wearing a costume that would make a stripper say, “Girl, get some clothes on!” rethink that. In fact, any outfit concept that has you walking around the show half naked, rethink that. I’m talking to you too, gentlemen. Nobody liked Jared Leto’s Juggalo-Joker. Nobody. Tuck your boy-titties away.

Props, however, to the guy dressed as Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark. At least somebody was trying to get laid by dressing for success.

I should say that not all of the more repulsive cosplayers put me off. A small child crying in terror at the sight of some murder-clowns brightened my day. I’ll admit it: I had to hide my face behind my program to stifle a laugh.

One of my key goals of the show was to scout out Artists Alley and see if it was well-travelled, or a desert of tumbleweeds and bored artists with no one to interact with. I have a notion I might want to pay for a table of my own next year and see how many books and comics I can hustle.

Once again, keeping to the theme of modern comic conventions having as little to do with comic books as possible, I was several rows into Artists Alley before I even knew I was there. Where were all the comic artists? Tucked into the very last stretch, it would seem. Most of the tables were manned by artisans of a different sort, selling all sorts of derivatives of comic-book culture without tainting their displays with any art that ever appeared in an actual comic. It’s great if you want a fashion accessory with an Avengers logo on it, not so great if you’re looking for someone who had anything to do with an Avengers comic book to sign your back issues.

I remain on the fence about dropping the chunk of change necessary to secure my own shop next year. It might prove to be money well spent, or it could turn into a PR fiasco. Speaking of which…

So how many confirmed pings did I get on my blocky-blobby-stupid-phone-thingie after exposing it to tens of thousands of nerds who would probably enjoy the hell out of Necropolis if they gave it half a chance?

Last I checked…four.

Promotion ain’t no easy thing.

Listen to the first half of last week’s episode of Cinema Smackdown if you want to hear additional details of my Comiccon adventures. Broadcast version is here.

The 700 Movie Mark

I’ve mentioned the weekly movie night I’ve been curating for the last 16 years on this blog many times before—so much so, it has its own sub-category.

This week will mark the 700th unique feature-length film we’ve screened. There had been more movie nights than that, but I’m not counting a limited number of repeat screenings and the few nights when we watched nothing but shorts.

Partly due to this milestone and partly because we were stuck for topics to talk about, this Sunday’s episode of Cinema Smackdown was devoted to the primordial-ooze days of movie night. I blathered on at length about how this phenomenon came about, the first ten or so movies that were screened, and my close personal ties to this gathering (bizarrely, I now live in the original venue where movie night began in September of 2003).

Cinema Smackdown continues apace, with Michael and I doing weekly shows, almost without failure (admittedly I missed one show a couple of weeks ago because I was so damn sick). I don’t like to constantly promote it because it feels like every time I blink, we’ve done another episode. But if you’d care to delve deeper into the lore of movie night, let me point you at the last hour of radio we did.

You have two options to listen in. You can watch the raw studio feed I post on my YouTube channel (don’t be shy about subscribing or watching other episodes). That will let you listen in on our chatter before and after the show, as well as during commercial breaks. Or, if you want the actual broadcast version, complete with better audio, the news from the top of the hour, and the aforementioned ads, you can check out the CJLO archives. Here’s a direct link to the episode in question.

Oscar Indifference

It’s an Oscar year so uninspiring that the Academy couldn’t even book anyone to host.

This is the second year I’ll be unplugged from my former cable service, and I’m doubly disengaged and more disinclined than ever to seek out a stream or screening. If it weren’t for my friends and colleagues David Fine and Alison Snowdon being nominated for their animated short, Animal Behaviour, I probably wouldn’t bother at all. Even so, the Oscars are old hat for them. They already won a golden statuette for Bob’s Birthday years ago. Been there, done that. I suppose the drama of Alison’s double lung transplant during production makes for a compelling backstory to the film. Maybe.

No shit. That happened.

Other than that, the Oscar ceremony is poised to be even more boring than usual.

If you want some more contrarian opinions about the Oscars (which will probably be more entertaining than tonight’s show) we spent this afternoon’s entire episode of Cinema Smackdown talking about it on CJLO.

Check out the rest of my YouTube channel for other recent episodes. Subscribe to get the raw video feed with all the inappropriate off-air chat that happens during the commercial breaks. You can also listen to the actual broadcast versions on the CJLO website archives, complete with better audio and ads.

We’re live online and on 1690 AM every Sunday afternoon at 2:00 pm Eastern Time.

Dead Pixel Theatre Part II: The Revenge

Just in time for the release of “Halloween,” the latest film in that 40-year-old franchise, and only the third one to simply be called “Halloween”—Michael, Tess and I reconvene for another episode of Cinema Smackdown.

This round we discuss the long history and many entries in the slasher sub-genre. Whether you’re on Team Myers, Team Voorhees, or Team Krueger, there’s plenty to cover, including a lot of interesting, obscure specimens you may have never heard of.

Dead Pixel Theatre

I’ve been running a bit of an experiment.

My appearances on CJLO’s Cinema Smackdown number far too many to keep track of. I’ve been at it for a couple of years now and, with the new format and time, hardly an irregularly scheduled episode goes by without my participation.

Eyestrain Productions is not brimming with high-tech A/V equipment. I, infamously, don’t even own a smartphone. But I’ve taken to recording recent episodes with an old Flip. The visuals are hardly compelling, the lone-mic audio attempt to capture an hour of chatter in the room is dodgy, but you work with what you have.

The last three episodes are up on my recently minted YouTube channel. The first one is a straightforward two-shot, despite the fact there are three people doing the show. Reviewing the footage and watching myself fidget in front of the camera for a full hour was unnerving, so the next two episodes feature an uninspiring view of a station microphone, while capturing slightly better audio than previously with my own vastly inferior in-camera mic.

There’s an archive of old Cinema Smackdown episodes on CJLO’s website, but they’re always late to be posted, and early to be rotated off. This is my attempt to preserve some shows for posterity, because occasionally something really insightful gets said, or a genuinely funny joke gets cracked.

This blog post marks the first major announcement that I’m even doing this. With enough views, I might be compelled to buy a better camera and microphone. We’ll see how it goes. But if you miss one of our live-streamed shows (Sundays at 2:00 pm, when we manage to collect ourselves for an actual appearance), they’ll be uploaded to my channel soon after. The sound may not be as crisp as it is on air, but on the plus side you can hear what we’re talking about during the commercial breaks, which may not be fit for broadcast.

Time Bomb

Two hours to air time.

Since the last time I mentioned Cinema Smackdown, I’ve become a staple on the show and have lost track of how many episodes I’ve done. You can pick through the archives at CJLO to try to figure that number out.

This week at 2:00 PM (Eastern), we’ll be talking about the catastrophic box office returns for Solo: A Star Wars Story, and the unfathomable reality we now live in, where a Star Wars movie can flop. Expect rants and recriminations as you listen live.

Work on the ebook editions of the Longshot Trilogy continues. If I ever said anything remotely neutral about Kindle Comic Creator in the past, I take it all back. As software goes, it’s a colossal piece of shit. But it is getting the job done, even as I fight it to the death every step of the way. We’re still on schedule to release this week.

That’s it for Longshot talk today, but to round out yesterday’s discussion of the back-cover history, here’s the full scan of “Mrs. Cliff’s Yacht” from 1896.

The Last Star Wars

SOME SPOILERS AHEAD.

Rewatching The Force Awakens on Netflix the night before the next film in the series opened, I came to realize something. Despite my best efforts to keep Star Wars at emotional arm’s length, to regard it as nothing more than the money-milling asset it is, to dismiss its high points and low points as ultimately meaningless, the venerable franchise was too important a part of my childhood to ignore. Forty years later, Star Wars remained important to me.

The next afternoon, I hiked out for a matinee of The Last Jedi. There was no line. Gone, it seems, are the days of queuing up hours early to get a ticket. There are too many theatres, too many screenings, too many post-release streaming options, and ultimately too many Star Wars films to stretch a horde of people around the block like it’s 1983 again.

Still, I felt a certain relief once I had my ticket in hand. I was going to see the new Star Wars movie before anyone had a chance to spoil it for me.

See it I did. And my initial reaction was, “That was a heaping pile of meh.” The film, it seems, spoiled itself.

A first impression is not always the right impression. Despite answering some initial questions about what I thought of The Last Jedi, I thought it would be prudent to sit on my opinion and let it percolate a while longer. Over the course of the opening weekend, I’ve had time to more carefully reflect on what I saw, and what it all means, and indeed I’ve revised my verdict somewhat.

I now consider Star Wars: The Last Jedi to be the new worst Star Wars movie ever made. So…uh…congratulations everyone involved!

Am I saying it’s worse than The Phantom Menace? No. I’m saying it’s even worse than the Star Wars Holiday Special. Cocaine-fuelled TV-variety-show trainwreck though that was, it was still Star Wars, and it didn’t piss all over the characters and their legacy. Even when Carrie Fisher was forced to sing that fuck-awful Life Day song, there was a certain laughable dignity to it.

But this… This hits a new low on so many fronts. I could go through it scene by scene, refuting apologists, but there’s going to be a million dissections of the film out there on the web. Anything I’m likely to say here would be redundant, and the last thing Star Wars needs is more rehashes and redundancy. Let’s just focus on one thing: the disgraceful treatment of Luke Skywalker.

I waited 34 years to see Luke Skywalker, one of the towering icons of my childhood, back in action. What I got was a depressed and bitter, tittie-squeezing, cowardly hermit who has let all his friends and family down, grumping about, forsaking everything he ever worked for or believed in, and acting like a total dick. Even his final sacrifice is literally phoned in, and plays more like a sad, lonely suicide. They may as well have had him die an inglorious death by autoerotic asphyxiation in his man-cave—thinking about those green-milk spewing titties, no doubt.

What a wasted opportunity. This trilogy was the last-chance last-hurrah for three characters who ushered in modern blockbuster Hollywood, and made many people in that town rich beyond their wildest dreams. Killing off Han Solo was forgivable. Harrison Ford had lobbied for the character’s death before the original trilogy even played out, so it only made sense he would return and promptly die in Episode VII. Carrie Fisher dropping dead in real life has effectively ended Leia as of this film. Luke was the last hope for a meaningful continuation of what once was. Everything was reasonably set up for that by the end of The Force Awakens. But, apparently, there’s no one at the helm. No overarching storyline. They just let the new guy come in and write the next chapter however he pleased. He tossed away plot lines he didn’t like, killed off characters he didn’t give a shit about, and threw in a mess of junk and loose ends for J. J. Abrams to try to stitch together when he returns for Episode IX.

Disney has been firing directors off of Star Wars projects left right and centre. There seems to be a lot of second guessing of high-level decisions. But I think they fired one director too few. I would have sacked Rian Johnson the moment he handed in a draft of this dog’s breakfast script. My assessment of him has gone from “promising new voice worth keeping an eye on” to “irredeemable hack.” The fact that he was offered his own off-shoot Star Wars trilogy after delivering this cookie-cutter insult suggests a certain insanity in the ranks. Disney needs to dump Kathleen Kennedy immediately and search the galaxy for a showrunner who can function as the Star Wars equivalent of Kevin Feige, or their four-billion-dollar investment is going to capsize and sink.

It’s too late to win me over at this point. I’m out. Star War was a magical lightning-in-a-bottle trilogy that ran from 1977 to 1983. Everything since then has either been a cynical cash grab or elaborate fan fiction. Sometimes both at once. I’ve searched my feelings, and I know this to be true.

Merry Halloween

Just in time for Christmas, I’m back on the air for the tardy Halloween episode of Cinema Smackdown on CJLO.

I’ve done the show so many times now, I stopped bothering to plug it here. But since we’re talking about a subject near and dear to my heart (horror movies), I thought I’d mention it a whole hour and a half before showtime.

Listen live and see if we manage to break the station again–like how the rerun last week became dead air for twenty minutes before it defaulted back to automated music. That may prove to be a preferable fate to the answers we have in store tonight at 7:00.