Friday Book Review: The Dark Sea Within (Collection) by Jason V. Brock

Sea within

 

 

Jason V. Brock is a writer, editor, publisher, and documentary filmmaker who lives in the Pacific Northwest. I don’t have his bio on hand, but he has edited and appeared in a number of benchmark publications, and over the past ten years, has established himself as one of the titans in modern speculative fiction.

 

I say speculative fiction because Brock rejects the mantle of “The New Weird,” the modern day scribes who’ve appointed themselves the successors of H. P. Lovecraft. After reading his latest collection “The Dark Sea Within” (Hippocampus Press), I can’t blame him. Fiction like this transcends labels.

 

 

The stories in The Dark Sea Within are almost uniformly strange in that they are unexpected. Brock is today what H. P. Lovecraft was in the 1920s and ‘30s: An innovator whose fiction lies beyond clearly defined commercial genres. This is not to say that Brock is a Lovecraft imitator. He is not. He is, however, an author in the mold of Lovecraft. In an age where mundane tales of mummies, ghosts, mad scientists, vampires, and cackling, mustache-twirling villains where all the rage, Lovecraft dreamed beyond the rim of space and time. His fiction was strange, it was fresh, it was different. Jason V. Brock’s fiction is like that. Brock is a dark dreamer who dares to color outside the lines. He does not slavishly follow any one man, or trend, he creates his own dark, fantastic worlds.

 

“The Shadow of Heaven” is one of my favorite entries. A United States naval vessel responds to a distress call in the ice choked sea off Antarctica, and its crew slowly discovers that a dark force is at work. I was reminded of John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (based on the John W. Campbell Story “Who Goes There?”). Not because Brock wanted me, the reader, to, but because he effortlessly crafted the same sense of hopeless, snow swept desolation that made “The Thing” such an effective horror piece. “Epistles from Dis” is another favorite. It takes place after a pandemic has ravaged the world, and begins with two scavengers encountering a bizarre new society along the Southern California coast. I was reminded of Pat Frank’s “Earth Abides,” and, to a lesser extent, The Road Warrior. I could even see shades of Matheson’s “I Am Legend” in its attention to scientific detail: Brock, like Matheson, tells us what the plague is and how it works. Many authors (myself included) tend to jump right in. People get sick. They die. Maybe they come back as zombies or vampires or circus clowns. No one knows how it works. Look, an explosion. Oooo. Ahhh.

 

I want to make it abundantly clear that Jason V. Brock is his own writer. I’ve compared him to both H. P. Lovecraft and Richard Matheson, but not because he is one of their many imitators, but because he embodies the best qualities of both: Lovecraft’s dark and boundless imagination, Matheson’s crisp prose, sense of adventure, and attention to detail. These are things that all good writers must possess, and Brock does, in spades. He is certainly one of the best modern authors I’ve read. In fact, I would go so far as to say that he is one of the only authors in horror/sf/fantasy/weird/blahblahblah today who can not only write, but also think. And in fiction, that is the most important aspect of all.

 

I foresee a long and fruitful career for Jason Brock. A long, fruitful, and well deserved career.

 

 

 

 

The Great Horror Movie Marathon Day Twenty-Four: Anthropophagous (1980)

Anthropophagous-poster

 

 

I think I’ve said this before, but just so we’re clear, Ima say it again: Italian horror movies are fucked, bro. I’m not expert on Italian horror cinema, but I’ve seen enough to recognize a trend, and that trend is gore. Blood, guts, fucking eyeballs popping out of heads.

 

One movie that is infamous for its violence is Anthropophagous, a little flick by a guy named Joe D’Amato. In it, a bunch of Eurotrash tourists wind up on a deserted island where a cannibal eats everyone he comes across (dude ate, like, the entire town). He’s all fucked up looking, and you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s a zombie, but nope: He’s just a regular run-of-the-mill cannibal. As we learn a little late in the film, he was a normal bro until he and his family were lost at sea. His son died and he wanted to eat him, but the mom thought that was fucked up, so dude killed her and went crazy.

 

D’Amato manages to craft a fair amount of tension, especially during the sequence where the tourists huddle in an abandoned building during a nighttime thunder storm. Anthropophagous is an off-screen presence at that point. We don’t see him, but we know he’s there, lurking in the shadows. As far as Italian horror/cannibal/zombie movies go, Anthropophagous is light on the gore…save for one disturbing scene. This scene is…let’s just say it’s probably the only reason anyone even remembers this movie. It’s that bad. See, one of the tourists is like eight months pregnant. Anthropophagous corners her in this creepy fucking crypt/catacomb/whatever the fuck it was and…he-he rips her fucking baby out and eats it. In front of God and everyone.

 

I don’t know how to feel about that. There’s a part of me that’s like “Whoa, that’s fucked…alright!” and there’s another that’s all “Whoa…that’s fucked…fuck that.” I mean to say: Horror films aren’t supposed to be happy, happy, joy, joy fun time. Jason isn’t supposed to be an anti-hero, you’re not supposed to root for Freddy or Leatherface, you’re not supposed to kick back and watch…I dunno…Bloody Severed Heads Part 5 and feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Horror is supposed to be horrifying, it’s supposed to scare and disgust and repel and shock and leave you cold and breathing heavy. Horror is not a fucking safe space for where SJWs can come when they’re triggered by something they don’t like. On the flip side, this dude seriously filmed a scene where a fucking cannibal rips a baby out of a woman’s womb and eats it. You’d have to be a stone cold motherfucker not to feel something about that. I realize I can’t really complain because I’ll literally contradict everything I’ve said in this paragraph, but still…damn. As a parent and a normal functioning human being, it was pretty hard to watch.

 

There’s another scene that people might find difficult. Toward the end, Anthropophagous gets cut open and starts eating his own intestines. That’s nowhere near as bad as eating a baby, but it’s still kind of gross.

 

Overall, Anthropophagous isn’t a must see. It was fun, and suspenseful, but aside from fetus feeding, it really doesn’t offer anything you can’t find in a thousand other horror movies from the period. It’s routine, run-of-the-mill stuff. If you have some time to kill and you just wanna watch whatever, great. If you want to get the most out of your hour and a half, though…pick something else.

 

 

The Great Horror Movie Marathon Day Twenty-Three: Mother’s Day (1980)

Mother

 

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day (right? I think it is, anyway) so I thought, “Hey, why not review Mother’s Day?”

 

I’m like the Dreamcast; I’m always thinking.

 

The first thing you should know about Mother’s Day (which is really the only thing I knew going in) is that it is a Troma movie. I don’t know much about the company, or its history, or anything like that, in fact, I’m not ever sure I’d ever seen one of their movies prior to this, but its reputation certainly preceded it. Troma Entertainment, in my mind, is associated with cheesy, low budget horror and sci-fi movies like Poultrygeist: Night of the Chicken Dead and Cannibal! The Musical. Again, I’ve never seen these movies, but I’ve heard of them, and by the time I got to Mother’s Day, I associated Troma with stupid D-list movies.

 

Mother’s Day, therefore, surprised me.

 

Mother’s Day follows a group of women who were friends in college as they meet for their annual vacy get together. Every year one gets to pick their destination; this year, one picked camping in the woods. Nice. Nothing bad ever happens in the woods.

 

Well…something bad happens.

 

They’re kidnapped by a couple of inbred redneck types and taken to their ramshackle house where their loving, but psychotic, mother watches happily while they commit rape and murder. Two of the friends manage to escape, and formulate a plan to get back at the killers. They return to the house, kill the boys, then their mother, and walk off into the sunset, victorious.

 

That’s not exactly what happened, but it should have.

 

Mother’s Day, whether intentionally or by accident, recalled “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” in many ways, not to mention Psycho, because mom. There was plenty of tension (especially when the two surviving friends are creeping through the house and trying to escape without being seen), and the characters were all likeable. The good characters, that is. And that’s mainly because even though they were different (one was a mousy pipsqueak type, the other a fashionista, and the third…I forget, maybe she was outdoorsy?), they loved each other, and that showed through. You actually felt their pain as they tended to their dying friend.

 

But one thing (and one thing only, come to think of it) sank this battleship: Queenie. Fucking Queenie.

 

Early on, while the girls are escaping, momma sees something watching her from the woods and flips her top, screaming about someone name “Queenie” coming to kill her (the only Queenie I know is “Little Queenie” by Chuck Berry, and I don’t even know that very well). Later, while one of the brothers is chasing the two escaped friends, the other wants to go help, but mother makes him stay with her, raving about how he needed to protect her from Queenie. Basically, as far as I recall, Queenie was momma’s sister. She was born deformed, or became deformed, or…some damn thing, I don’t know. Basically Queenie was all messed up and tried to kill momma, then fled into the woods. The son she begs to protect her confronts her about Queenie, saying that “grandpa” told him he killed Queenie. Even though dude’s crazy and possibly inbred, he comes to a pretty heavy conclusion: Momma’s making Queenie up to keep her sons close by.

 

After momma and her boys are killed, our heroines make their way into the woods, and are this close to getting help when a fucked Sasquatch looking thing jumps them. This, apparently, is Queenie, and those were our heroines until Queenie had them for lunch.

 

Alright. What the fuck? For one, Mother’s Day didn’t need a fucking albino Bigfoot knock-off. It was doing a damn good job as a backwoods slasher/rape and revenge movie. Queenie was not needed, and (I’m speaking for myself here) not wanted. It’s like making a bomb ass…I dunno, chili…and then dumping wood shavings in it. Well, it was good until you just fucking put your ass over it and started dropping turds.

 

And…I actually liked the characters. They were well done, convincing, and actually developed over the course of the movie. I was rooting for them. I wanted them to win. Then in the last two seconds they get thrown to some dweeb who really had no business being in the movie in the first place.

 

I’ve seen a lot of good horror movies shoot themselves in the foot by adding elements that just don’t gel, and every time I sadly shake my head. Why? To what purpose? Were they afraid that their meatballs weren’t good enough on their own, so they had to add sprinkles and chocolate frosting to liven them up? You just ruined a good movie for no reason whatsoever.

 

Up until the last two seconds, Mother’s Day was a good movie. I’ll shout that from the rooftops. It was surprisingly good, and totally subverted my expectations. Then Queenie came along, and disappointed the hell out of me.

 

Future filmmakers of the world…be careful what you throw in the pot. Chances are, your dish is fine, and the dirty diapers you’re about to drop in just aren’t necessary.

The Great Horror Movie Marathon Day Twenty-Two: Funeral Home (1980)

Funeral Home

 

 

 

Imagine you’re an ar-teest. You see something (a movie, a painting, a book) and like it so much that you do exactly the same thing (only a little bit differently). Feel like a plagiarizing asshole? You should. Because you are.

 

Okay, maybe I’m being a little harsh. After all, I just wrote a twenty-one-thousand word novella where two psychos take people hostage in their home months after watching a movie where two psychos take people hostage in a home and said, “Gee, that’s cool. I wanna do that.” Still, 1980’s Funeral Home is a total rip-off whereas my story was “heavily inspired by.”

 

Here’s the deal: This teenage girl moves in with her grandmother for the summer in order to help her turn the old, creepy family funeral home into a cheery, sunny bed and breakfast. Grandma’s alone since grandpa ran out, and she’s decided to do her. You go, girl.

 

Only there’s a problem: Grandpa’s actually living in the basement, and he’s a total dick, pissing and moaning because over his granddaughter being there, driving grandma to tears. We never see him, but he hear him whispering, and boy, does he sound creepy. What’s up with him, anyway? Is he a zombie?

 

People start dying, because of course they do. One of them is a houseguest who’s looking for his missing wife…the wife who ran off with grandpa. So that’s why he left his family. Men, always thinking with their dicks.

 

After getting curious and hearing grandma and grandpa arguing, grandbaby (I forget her name. It’s not important anyway) sneaks in to have a look, and lo and behold, grandpa’s a nasty dead body sitting in a chair. Grandma pops out of the shadows with an ax (and wearing very manly attire), and when she talks, it’s the creepy grandpa voice from earlier. What a Psycho!

 

The granddaughter survives with the help of a local boy she’s been seeing, and after granny’s arrested, it’s revealed that she found out her husband was cheating on her, killed him and his mistress, and kept his body in the basement, you know, the whole Norman Bates treatment.

 

Yes. Funeral Home is basically Psycho with the genders reversed. Oh, in Psycho it was a motel and here it’s a bed and breakfast. That’s kind of like when Superman puts on his Clark Kent glasses and thinks no one recognizes him, but everyone totally does; you’re not fooling me, Funeral Home AKA Psycho.

 

I’ll admit though: I didn’t see the twist until it was staring me in the face. I like to think this is because I wasn’t expecting a virtual remake of an earlier movie, but I’m probably just stupid, so, there’s that. Someone smarter than I am would probably have seen it coming a mile away. I didn’t. I went down into that fucking basement expecting a reanimated corpse of some kind, and instead got a beefy woman in a plaid shirt and jeans. Serves me right, really.

 

Other than being a rip-off, Funeral Home wasn’t that bad. It wasn’t good, but it wasn’t something I’m going to tell my kids about when I start indoctrinating them into the horror genre. Well, maybe, but like “Yeah, Psycho was cool, right? There’s this total rip-off called Funeral Home where it’s a woman. Lol. She’s all dressed up like a lumberjack and uses an ax. It was lame.”

 

If I remember correctly, Funeral Home hails from Canada. After Shivers, I expected a little more from my friends up north.

 

Never trust a goddamn canuk.

The Great Horror Movie Marathon Day Twenty-One: The Last Voyage (1960)

the last voyage

 

 

Alright, alright, you got me: This isn’t a horror movie at all. It’s what people back in the day called a “disaster film.” The Towering Inferno (1974) is one of the more famous examples of this cinematic genre. The Poseidon Adventure (1972) is another (I guess every Titanic movie ever made is as well). They still make movies like this today, but they suck, just like everything else today (Split and Get Out included). Back in the old days, though, they could really shake ‘em down.

 

The Last Voyage starts with the captain of an aging liner on one of its last ocean crossings getting an ominous note from one of his officers: FIRE IN THE BOILER ROOM. Oh, snap! Luckily the S.S. Claridon is a hardy veteran and no punk bitch. She’ll just walk it off.

 

Below decks, a bunch of stokers/engineers (including a big, slick, shirtless black man, a shocking sight in 1960, I’d imagine) fight to quell the flames. They get-r-done, but all the safety values are fused shut by the fire and the ship can’t let off steam or something. I don’t know. I’m not a fucking scientist. Anyway, a giant explosion rips through the center of the ship. Cliff (Robert Stack of Unsolved Mysteries fame) and his wife and daughter are trapped in their cabin, little Jill (or was it Julie? I forget. Cute kid, though) is perched precariously on a shelf over a gaping hole while mom (forget her name entirely) is pinned under what looks like a piece of hull. Cliff rescues his daughter and desperately tries to free his wife to no avail.

 

Meanwhile, on deck, the captain and his chief officer argue about whether to assemble the passengers and start putting them off in the boats. The captain is a stubborn old cuss, and doesn’t want to do it. Below decks, the black dude (Hank), and a bunch of guys fight to pump out the water rushing in and to shore up a bulkhead. If that bulkhead gives, the Clairidon is doomed. Dum-duh-da!

 

Eventually Cliff makes his way to the boiler room in search of a torch. Hank, realizing the bulkhead will give any minute, helps Cliff get the torch (and attendant big ass tank) to his cabin just as the bulkhead collapses in a spectacular rush of water. They don’t have all the necessary parts for the tank, however, so, shit.

 

On the bridge, the captain gives the order to lower the boats and gets an earful from the chief stoker, who calls him a boob or something. The captain responds with a manly slap.

 

In the chaos, Cliff entrusts Hank with little June (or Jill or Jacky, whatever). Hank gets her to a lifeboat and returns to Hank and mom’s side. He’s totally committed to helping. Good dude.

 

Cliff eventually gets the chief stoker to come help, but the water is rising and there’s no getting wifey out. Cliff prepares to meet his doom.

 

Luckily, a lifeboat returns from rescue ship with the necessary part, and Hank arrives just when it looks like all is lost. He and the stoker-boss free mom, and they all escape as the ship begins to flood, swimming off the flooded boat deck just as the Caldoon slips beneath the waves. Oh, as for the captain, he’s crushed to death when a funnel falls onto the wheelhouse. His last words were basically crying because the boss stoker dude yelled at him. The captain was vapid and all about image, you know.

 

The first thing I have to say about this movie is: The effects are great. Really. This doesn’t look like a movie from 1960. They did a damn good job. The secret seems to be that they used a real ship (the S.S. Ile de France) that was headed for the scrapyard and really took it to task. Smashed things, partially sank it, actually toppled the funnel onto the bridge. The shipping company was so appalled that they vowed to never allow another one of their ships to be used in such a way again (I get it was their flagship, but come on, it was headed for the chop shop anyway). You don’t get special effects like that from green screens and computers. Another reason old movies are better.

 

The acting was good, not overdone like in some other movies from the period. The tension also keeps tight until the very last minute. Some might argue it was a little much, but I was okay with it. Come on, it’s a fucking movie.

 

My one complaint (and it’s a minor one) is that we don’t get a long shot of the ship going down: Just a glimpse of one of its remaining funnels disappearing. But, hey, whatever. I was looking for a movie where a ship sank and I got it. Plenty of shots of panicked crowds, lifeboats, listing decks, water gushing in. Really cool movie. Five middle fingers.