Grady Hendrix, Evil Eighties, continues at Tor.com. This week I reread and reviewed Joe R. Lansdale's '80s splat classic, The Nightrunners. Incidentally, today is the fifth anniversary of Too Much Horror Fiction! And I began it with, natch, The Nightrunners!
Saturday, February 28, 2015
Wednesday, February 25, 2015
The Kill Riff by David J. Schow (1988): Ain't It a Shame To Be Shot Down in Flames
Schow, early 1990s
Middle-aged Lucas Ellington, fresh out of a stint in a fancy, relaxing psychiatric "home," is attempting normalcy again. His beloved daughter was trampled to death at a performance by LA's heavy metal bad boys Whip Hand, Lucas went over the deep end and threatened Gabriel Stannard, the lead singer, but today, Lucas just wants to drive up to his cabin in the California wilds and chill, alone. He touches base with his business partner, Burt, with whom he runs an advertising company, as well as the female psychiatrist, Sara, who might be falling in love with him. Both think Lucas is well on his way to recovery... but he is not. In his still-fevered brain, Lucas wants to lay the members of Whip Hand to waste, kill 'em all, no mercy, and hidden in that secluded cabin is an arsenal direct from any Nam vet's worst nightmare... or wet dream.
There are some terrific moments of tension scattered throughout Kill Riff, scenes that Schow treats with loving care: Lucas stalking the catwalk of a concert hall while a metal band goes through its ear-splitting pyrotechnics and thousands of kids in screaming worship; an abused young woman standing up for the first and final time to her grinning terrorizer; an injured sheriff crawling to his patrol car to radio for help. Gripping stuff in Schow's singular, stinging prose. No surprise he began writing more crime thrillers later in his career long after that whole splatterpunk thing was over. He throws in some twists that are just devastating, devastating I tell you! That's what I remembered most about the novel: the unexpected events that change everything.
UK paperback, 1990
But those twists aren't enough. The problem is that the scenes linking these set pieces vary in quality and reader interest level. Lucas discussing Whip Hand trivia with a cynical record shop manager rings true and cute, and Schow has a skill with detailing old friends Burt and Lucas and how they talk to one another. But rocker Stannard is a just a spoiled, posturing douchebag, so it's no fun listening to him expound on anything, and all his hanger-ons and bandmates are complete creeps. Why do I care if they stand up to Lucas? Anything to do with Stannard's slinky Euromodel girlfriend Sertha is just wasting time. Once Lucas's true self is revealed, the less of him the better. Minor characters pop in and out, often more interesting than the leads. You just want Lucas and Stannard to meet, draw their weapons, and kill each other, get it all over with! Blast away guys, nobody's gonna miss ya. Both men get what's coming to 'em, but will you still care by the end?
Schow loves the minutiae of subconscious motivation, self-reflection, repressed fears, idle speculations, and the contemporary (well, '80s contemporary) Los Angeles lingo of ad firms, psychiatry, and show-biz schmoozers. That's an area Schow has always mined in his short fiction, in his own particular style. His characters talk and talk and talk, diving deep into their own heads and trying to get inside others'. They are hyper-articulate but at times the reader will definitely think, People don't actually talk like that (unless everybody was snorting coke off-page; I mean the setting is 1980s LA). Between that and their dorky jokes, the dialogue alone can be exhausting. And Schow's experience as a men's adventure scribe mean lots of details about weaponry. This can be difficult to integrate into a narrative, and my personal tolerance level for gritty realistic odes to the AR-15, the M16, and the AK-47 is virtually nil. It's not that Schow doesn't work this stuff in well, it's that I tune out for it.
UK hardcover, 1989
I wasn't too taken with Schow's depiction of the '80s metal music scene either. As a dedicated reader of Circus and Hit Parader from 1983 till about 1988 (basically a generation in pop music), I think I can call foul on some of it. He's got guys in metal bands playing keyboards, guys with bald heads and names from the punk scene, dudes with muscles and Mohawks. So he's not describing WASP or Motley Crue or Dokken or Iron Maiden or Judas Priest or Motorhead, but actually more a band like the Plasmatics. Which actually kind of makes sense, because out of all those folks the only person I can imagine taking up arms against a rabid, raging father bent on vengeance would be Plasmatics singer Wendy O. Williams. What, I'm supposed to think Vince Neil would do that? Ha! Hardly. Is that Schow's point, all these wannabe badasses in metal bands thought they were all walking the mean streets but at heart they were really just pussies? Maybe so. Gabriel Stannard, beholden to the bullshit bad-boy code, sure ends up paying a high price trying to prove he's the real deal. Ironic, no?
Monday, February 16, 2015
Enter to the Realm of Satan!
Brian McNaughton. The first three are from Carlyle Books, easily some of the dullest covers ever (by Ed Soyka, perhaps?); then you'll find the early '80s UK editions from Star Books. Oh, land of Aleister Crowley and Hammer Horror, we'd expect nothing less!
Friday, February 13, 2015
New Series at Tor.com: The Evil Eighties
Tor.com, Grady Hendrix and I have begun another series on horror fiction. This one is "Evil Eighties," and first up is my look at John Farris. Happy Friday the 13th!
Thursday, February 12, 2015
Feels Like I'm Going to Lose My Mind
Monday, February 9, 2015
RIP Melanie Tem (1949-2015)
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
Horror Fiction Help XV
1. Back in the way back (1963-4) my dad gave me an anthology of one page horror stories that were so well written, I still, these many years later, will not eat a can of food sans wrapper--even if it's from my own pantry. There were also two stories about babies--one read as a prisoner escaping his cell, turning the bars, pretending to sleep when the guards came by, only to find its a toddler in his playpen.
2. This book or digest actually had short stories in comic-book form but they weren't comics per se. Two of the stories I do remember went like this and apparently these stories were based on some type of true events.
The first story involved a guy who was caught in a terrible storm. He found refuge in a dilapidated castle. It was there that he met a lady who stated that this was her home. He extended his stay and they fell in love. Her only condition was that he may never see her either in the daylight or in any sort of light (don't remember which). They had two kids together. One day, he broke that promise and saw her for what she was. Some sort of monster (kind of a cross between a wolf or bear) that walked upright. Needless to say, she banished him due to his mistake and his kids also were these creatures.
The other story involves a guy who basically wants to get rid of his wife (for whatever reason). So he takes her into the woods. Of course, he gets out of there and abandons her leaving her to the wolves who do kill her. After a period of time, the guy is looking out into the woods from his balcony when he sees the ghost of his wife floating toward him. Not believing what he sees, he leaves his house to follow said ghost. She continues to float about 15-20 feet off the ground and leads him into the woods. The last scene is of him getting attacked by wolves (probably the same ones that attacked her). In other words, she got her revenge by getting him ambushed.
A detective is investigating the murder rape of a young girl. He arrests a man (a dwarf) who confesses
that he had done that in a ritual to obtain wings.
The detective has no other proofs, so, in
order to punish the rapist he torn out of his back the budding wings already
growing there. Found! It's "A Fly One" by Steve Sneyd, found in both Whispers III and Year's Best Horror VIII.
6. Late 1990s or early 2000s. Set in the forests of the northern U.S., or maybe Canada. Plot ultimately centered on a werewolf, and I think it featured a woman heroine.
Story begins when a man of American Indian heritage, living in a cabin in the woods alone, wakes up one morning in early autumn to find that a spider has spun a web across his porch. The man’s Indian heritage leads him to take this event as a sign of an early and harsh winter, and also as a possible omen of something much more dreadful. The man’s misgivings are then amplified into a sense of impending doom by a second incident on the same day: While walking in the woods, he is attacked by a savage, angry rabbit. This latter incident convinces the man that he is going to die that winter, and he does in fact die in the course of the book. I remember that these opening pages set a magnificent sense of dark impending fate in the midst of the bright colors of a beautiful autumn morning.
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