Saturday, November 27, 2010

Two Modern Horror Novels That Were Splatterpunk Before There Was a Splatterpunk

Cannibal Holocaust is a damn good movie, and I will FIGHT YOU over it—
Now, we’ll get back to that in a moment, but let’s just say that you’re the type of person who would nod assent if asked, “Do you like the movie Cannibal Holocaust, yes or no?”

If you say, “Yes,” then stick around, especially if
you like reading books: The National Library of Ivanlandia
(the land where libraries open at 3pm and close at midnight, so’s the workin’ man can still get hisself a free edumacation!)
has a couple of nasty--but tasty--reads you might be interested in…
Ivanlandia Looks At Books!
These are two very different but powerful books that are recommended especially for those fans of Extreme Literature or Splatterpunk

Slob by Rex Miller (1987, Signet)
You want terror? Then dig up the late Rex Miller’s excellent and pulpy Slob.
If you like books that leave you sleepless because A) they’re such masterfully crafted page-turners that you can’t put ’em down;
and/or B) because you can’t sleep because you’re too scared, then I can’t recommend Slob enough.

Originally published in 1987 by Signet, then long out-of-print (now available through e-reads and other electronic methods; check on, Miller’s debut novel is a familiar story, but told in such an invigorated way that it appears fresh.

It’s the now-clichéd loner-cop-chasing-the-vicious-serial-killer plot, but the ferociousness that Miller throws into the mix really jacks up the volume.

Enormous Daniel Bunkowski is a killing machine with low-level ESP powers. He’s about 500 pounds and wears size 15EEEEE shoes.

Abused as a child, then sent to Vietnam, the huge beast has escaped from prison and is rumored to have killed hundreds criss-crossing the country.
In jail, the other prisoners said that he “had taken a life for nearly every pound of his weight.”

He rapes, he tortures, he tears out hearts. In Vietnam, he got the nickname Chaingang because he carries around a length of tractor chain that he uses with whip-like accuracy.
In big cities, Chaingang hides in the sewers.

The egomaniacal psychopath considers himself the perfect physical incarnation of Death.

The novel’s other main character is reformed drunk Jack Eichord, a homicide detective (and ruthlessly pragmatic when the need arises), who’s shown some ability in the profiling and catching of serial killers.

Assigned to the case, Eichord gets involved with Edie, the widow of one of Chaingang’s earlier victims.
And so the strands of plot begin to draw together….

The book is a very calculated affair I’ll admit, plotted for maximum efficiency, but it works because Miller is so damn willing to cross the line.

Slob is not for the squeamish. Yes, it could be argued that Slob’s violence, gore and mayhem is also very calculated, but then I would argue that it’s part of Miller’s truly warped sense of style (I especially love the sick way Eichord lures Chaingang out of hiding at one point).

Here’s how Miller describes the results of one of Chaingang’s ambushes:
[I]magine two loaded 12-guage shotguns…Rack a shell into each weapon…Now drop nine cockroaches into one barrel…ten into the other…Put the guns in workbench vises facing each other and weld the two barrels pointing into each other’s bore…Using a trigger-wired remote firing device, simultaneously pull the two triggers firing the weapons into themselves at the same precise millisecond.
This is how you make nineteen cockroaches
all fucked up

Yet the novel has a moralistic core that pleases me: the killer’s actions are never played for laughs, and we’re routinely forced to sympathize with his victims—especially at their horrifying and degrading deaths.

Slob’s outrageousness works because it’s counterbalanced with not only the pain and sorrow of those unfortunate enough to cross Bunkowski’s path, but with the pain and sorrow of their loved ones left behind as well. (Edie’s early scenes, where she’s sadly ruminating about life without her husband, evoke pathos well.)

Meanwhile, Chaingang is never less than repellent. Only the most deranged and psychologically disturbed fan could ever identify with the fat maniac. In addition to Bunkowski and Eichord, Miller populates his thriller with a cast of sleazy weirdos, from a no-luck biker gang to a vile Morton Downey Jr./Jerry Springer stand-in to an acid-casualty voodoo doctor.

Slob is really a book for the Sam Fuller/Roger Corman/George Romero brigade: old school B-movie mayhem with intelligence and a low-rent artiness that not only elevates it above the rest of the trash, but as well as above the more “serious” attempts to portray similar circumstances.
Above all else, Slob seriously has teeth (which is different from being mean spirited). This stuff bites—it doesn’t smirk.

If I was going to pull a Hollywood-style pitch of Slob, I’d use the high-concept equation of Texas Chainsaw Massacre or The Hills Have Eyes meets Red Dragon.
In no way “High Art” (and unrepentantly so), Slob is really the best kind of pulp fiction, full of raw emotions and situations that gnaw at your brain.

I shouldn’t tell you this, because, well, I don’t want to ruin things for you, but here goes:
I know that Miller wrote several sequels to Slob—that he did not kill off Chaingang—and to be honest, that pissed me off.
Not to say that it doesn’t appear if anyone could survive the type of gunshot wounds suffered by the monster, but Miller pulls a Halloween-ish “boogey man” routine as a flood drags away Chaingang’s carcass before the Hero Cop can deliver a coup de grace. Miller has Eichord react in an anxious and nervous manner about this—the cop’s seen horror movies: they’re not dead until you really frickin’ make sure they’re dead!

I know I wanted Chaingang dead. Something that evil should not be allowed to roam the earth and take more victims. By my reaction, it’s obvious that Miller has created a memorable character, and that’s to his credit.
But in my opinion some villains are meant to stay dead, and Miller’s attempts at subsequent pecuniary satisfaction diminish the quality of this splatterpunk tour-de-force.
Forcing the knowledge of the sequels out of my mind—much in the same way I ignore the inferior sequels to Jaws—helps me appreciate this book more, however.

But if I were going to make a movie of Slob, I’d film it so that you’d know that Eichord’s gunshots absolutely positively blew off part of Chaingang’s head and killed him.
I’d make sure that there could be no sequel. (Or at least I’d make it so hard to make a sequel that it would be burdened by its own absurdity, much like Jason X, the Friday the 13th sequel set in the future on a spaceship.)


I’ve noticed I’ve used a lot of allusions to films in my criticism of Slob, and while I’m puzzled that no one’s ever optioned Miller’s book for the movies (to my knowledge), I’m not completely surprised.
It would only be with the most advanced CGI graphics and prosthetic effects that you could bring the monstrously fat Chaingang Bunkowski to life on the screen.
Not to mention the trouble you’d have with the prudish ratings board over the disturbing subject matter as well as the amount of gore you’d be splashing on the silver screen.

And in addition to all that, in youth- and beauty-obsessed Hollywood, a vicious, gross, fat rapist/murderer who never says anything cool just might not be franchise material.
(Of course, they could just make Chaingang a killer, and leave out the brutal sexual attacks, and then everything would be cool. Mints to be made, and sippy-cups to be sold!)

The Brave by Gregory Mcdonald (1991; Barricade Books)
It’s the disturbing subject matter of Johnny Depp’s film version of Gregory Mcdonald’s 1991 novel, The Brave (published by Barricade; now out-of-print, but snoop around), that has kept that film undistributed. (Although some who’ve seen the film report it is different from the book…)

Mcdonald’s novel is the grim and gut-wrenching story of Rafael, a desperately poor peon who drinks too much and isn’t too bright. He’s so down and out that he becomes willing to sell his own life to feed his family.
To do so, he agrees to star in a “snuff” movie.

Personally, I think that snuff movies like the one described in this book are an urban myth. While I’m sure that there are some serial killers or deranged madmen (or even hoodlum youth) who have videotaped their crimes for their own future amusement (not to mention the battlefield torture/murders that have been captured on tape or film), I’ve never once heard of a “snuff movie” that was specifically made for a paying audience.
And if it does exist, how come the FBI or the Justice Department has never held a news conference where they’ve reported the capture of one of these grotesque movies?
And don’t tell me it’s because they don’t want to scare the public, not with the scores of atrocious things that the Feds have turned up in various raids that they’re always willing to trot before the media to show off their vigilance and moral superiority.

But be that as it may, in Mcdonald’s short novel, the snuff film is the perfect and grisly metaphor for how the desperately poor get chewed up and spit out.
Rafael is a decent enough chap—he truly loves his family and wants to help them—but poverty and alcoholism have addled his brain and his resulting naïveté is heart-breaking. While Mcdonald is nothing if not compassionate towards his trusting hero, in this grim Upton Sinclair-like world that he’s created, you don’t think that the author was going to give you any type of happy ending, do you?
Better known for his successful series of “Fletch” books (I’m a big fan of these novels; the movies, not so much),
Mcdonald has written a hard and visceral book, a far cry from those comedic mysteries.

Where Slob’s mood is one of unrelenting terror, The Brave’s is one of unmerciful dread.
Early in the novel (in a chapter, Mcdonald writes in the foreword, so “strong and repulsive as it has to do with both immediate, and planned, prolonged human cruelty,”
that he advises “that not all will find it desirable or perhaps absolutely necessary” to read),
the character of the uncle, a fat and seedy mobster (reportedly played by Marlon Brando in Depp’s film), describes in vivid detail what will happen to Rafael as the cameras are rolling.
This knowledge hangs over the rest of the book enhancing the feeling of impending doom.

As for the aforementioned Cannibal Holocaust (what an awesome title!)—
Yes, I like Cannibal Holocaust, but it’s not a movie that I’d recommend for everyone.
But that line of dialog from Videodrome comes to mind, about Videodrome (the corporate entity) being “dangerous because it has a philosophy.”
That’s Cannibal Holocaust: it has a philosophy—perhaps ill-defined, but so be it—and it’s gonna ram it down your throat (or up your ass, to make an analogy more in line with the film).

(What do I think the flick’s philosophy is? The Natural State of Nature is Kill or Be Killed, but that is a delicate balance, and when dumb-ass dilettante documentarians show up, they fuck things up until the natural balance reasserts itself in an extremely violent manner. But said more concisely.)
[And I’ll admit I haven’t seen Cannibal Holocaust in at least 10 years. And I’m not sure that I want to again, not just yet, but that doesn’t mean the flick’s not an effective movie: This is tough, disturbing shit—an endurance test only surpassed by the infamous training film Army Medicine in Vietnam (a flick I have seen multiple times—but for a variety of circumstances).

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Discussion of “Martyrs” (and an excuse to run a bunch of photos)

With the news that a potentially upbeat remake of the French horror-intensity Martyrs (2008) is in the pipeline, I figured it was time to break out some notes that I’d been sitting on for a while.

This was an e-mail conversion played out on Il Fache-book between myself, Rick (Mr. Toestubber), David Aaron Clark (DAC), and PK.

My including these notes also ties with the upcoming one-year anniversary of DAC’s death. I wish I’d hung out with Dave more often. He was a great guy. Sigh…
So what these e-mails are is me, in July 2009, asking these gentz—whose opinions I trust, respect and seek out—
what they thought of Martyrs:

July 17 at 1:51pm

Hi guys, simply hi!

Okay, I know Rick and PK liked Martyrs, and I'm almost certain DAC did as well (jiminy crickets, while watching the flick, I kept thinking that it was made just for you, Dave)--but I did not like the film.

Despite its plethora of great (twisted) ideas, Martyrs BORED me. I was sitting there snapping my fingers at the TV: get on with it--I get it, move on.
[And I think I was annoyed by the pace *because* of the film's good ideas and mindgames, I felt those deserved a better forum with which to be foisted on the world.]

And the chick who played Lucie? What an annoying bitch: I'm glad she killed herself.

I mean, did I miss something, or is this a case of that random intangibility called personal taste? Inside still rules as the Gallic splatter champ for me...

July 17 at 2:11pm

Must be personal taste, indeed. I was riveted to the screen; you called that one right.
Yeah, the Lucie character was highly annoying; it seemed that she was meant to be. I'd call it a friendly disagreement, Rev. Lerner.

July 17 at 3:33pm

From following the Ivan netflix reviews lately, I must note that he is difficult to please. He hated Vermilion Pleasure Night (that I can understand - it's pretty specifically Japanese humor and I don't even probably "get" most of it) and has been giving low ratings and using the term "boring" on several other movies that (admittedly I assume) are total shit.

Anyway, Martyrs is not a Great Movie, but it has some interesting ideas, is disgusting, surprised me a few times and didn't insult my vast intellect too much.

At this point dave and rick use MY thread to invite each other to porn movie shoots where they are bound to get jizz on their wingtips…

July 17 at 5:17pm

Sorry I'm not in L.A.; I've got a suit and some wingtips that need to have strangers' bodily fluids splattered on them.

I dunno what got into me--it's just that Martyrs COULD have been so great (by Ivanlandia standards)--the flick DID surprise me (plotwise) on a couple of occasions, but then the overall was lacking.
Rick, your assessment is good.

Yes, Rick, many movies now bore me, I'm sorry to say. But when I'm 15 steps ahead of them, well, you get the idea...

But you know what I just rediscovered--and now think is awesome-ish? Michael Winner's The Sentinel: holy shit! Dub it into Spanish and call it a Jodorowsky flick, dub it into Portuguese (the language of dogs) and say it's a Coffin Joe movie!

At this point Dave & I go off on a tangeant; insulting multual acquaintances….

At the end of the night, like the proverbial cavalry saving the day, PK finally chimes in…

July 17 at 9:45pm

Wow, I feel like I have to defend why I was so blown away by Martyrs. Here goes ...

Of all the 'new wave of French horror' films out there I find it the most intelligent.
I love how it constantly threw curveballs at you. There's just so much happening on so many different levels:
There's the relationship between the two girls up front.
There's how the film is fucking with the concept of the 'torture porn' genre.
There's the sect, which is is an awesome put-down of virtually all religions out there.
There's the seemingly all-too-normal family with the torture chamber in their basement (were their kids in on it? you tell me).
There's the 'true crime' element in the photos on the wall downstairs and what's really behind them (how many of us used to visit ... or still do?).

And finally there's the whole transformation/seeing-that-which-you-cannot-unsee/'you bring me closer to God'/horror-as-spirituality ending.
There's are more ideas going on in this film than any recent horror film I can think of. The only recent ones to come close are The Host and Battle Royale.
However, I see Ivan's point in terms of it not being an entertaining movie. Compared to The Host and Battle Royale it falls way short.

For one thing, there's so very little humor in it at all, which makes it a hard going to say the least and ultimately hurts it. We saw Drag Me To Hell and that was a great, fun horror movie. Martyrs sure as hell ain't a 'fun' horror movie.

OK ... I'll shut up now, but that's how I see it. If there are any great new horror movies out there (I've heard Deadgirl is something interesting but I ain't seen it yet) please clue me in.

July 18 at 4:46pm

PK, you rock! That’s a really thoughtful look at the movie.
You’ve helped me respect Martyrs, even if I’m not going to “like” it.

The thing is:
I could sense there was something about the flick---it wasn’t complete and useless garbage—and there were a lot of original ideas, and I did like the twists the plot took
but my negative reaction wouldn’t let me let me think rationally about it. You've seen how bonkers I get if a movie bugs me. There's something wrong with me. (Or, as the Westworld poster would say, "worng.")

And there it is.
(and welcome to all our new followers: hooray!)