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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

It's A Drive In Movie Special. Book Reviews: Monstrous, Apeshit, It Came From The Drive-In

There was a time when our movies were green; when we could enjoy the celluloid world of the silver screen in the great outdoors. Sure the sound was muffled and even spotty; but most times the dialogue wasn’t all that memorable anyway. Sure the screen was a poor imitation of IMAX; those images were sure tall but if you were lucky to actually see them away from the glare of those lights on the pole, well you didn’t see much of the movie anyway.

There was a time when our movies were an experience; a time when you could, almost legally smuggle bodies in your trunk along with a keg. This was the time when you could leave your seat for a hotdog, trudge through mud and still follow the story on the screen. This was only time it was permissible for the movies to become a social event for couples and groups either by the snack bar or in the back seat.

The Drive-In was a special time that unfortunately met its end because of urban sprawl. The reviews to follow hearken back to those days of over the top plots, larger than life monsters, busty cheerleaders, interplanetary panic, fear of the bomb and twisted straight lipped humor. Take a step with me to those long ago days of teenage yore:

Book Review: Monstrous: 20 Tales of Giant Creature Terror (Permuted Press, 2008) various authors, edited by Ryan C. Thomas, 268 pages.

Without a doubt the plan behind this compendium is to celebrate the B-movie horror genre, the engine that drove the drive-in movie craze of the 1950’s and 60’s. This collection more than succeeds in translating the big-screen drive-in experience into print. The stories, just like those movies, are uneven and a percentage of them even fall short on concept. But, with the exception of a couple of well-crafted tales, the majority of these stories are reinventions of the camp horror of the time. Unfortunately though, for most, the undercurrent of humor found in the films is missing in the printed format.

We have the talents of, and not in any particular order, Steve Alten, James A. Moore, Guy N. Smith, Nate Kenyon, Jeff Strand, D. L. Snell, Paul Stuart, J. C. Towler, John R. Platt, E. Anderson, Brian M. Sammons, Evan Dicken, Cody Goodfellow, Steven L. Shrewsbury, David Conyers, R. Thomas Riley, Gregory L. Norris, Randy Chandler, James A. Moore, James Thomas Jeans, Aaron A. Polson, and Patrick Rutigliano.

‘The Enemy of My Enemy’, written by Patrick Rutigliano deserves mention. This is the most original and terrifying of the group. Set in the mud trenches of World War I, this generally overlooked war introduced the world to mechanized and chemical warfare through the use of ariel bombings and the nerve toxin referred to as “mustard gas”. Against this background of blood and mass destruction, the remnants of a retreating company are insidiously attacked. This is a startling giant monster tale that progressively irritates and ramps up reader discomfort to the point of keeping the lights on; all in a mere handful of pages. If you believe war is Hell, then welcome to a new level.

Kudos as well to Guy N. Smith for ‘Crabs’, a fast paced scream of running fun and sudden jolts. This is the literary equivalent of the show-time Lakers featuring Magic and Kareem. The thrills are many and Smith gets it. This story, too, is quite short but built for speed. No brown paper bag needed here and it won’t be a bad thing to say “I’ve got ‘Crabs’. Get them.

The Conyers-Sammons collaboration entitled ‘Six-legged Shadows’ reads like an original Rod Serling Twilight Zone episode. Enough said, worth the read.

‘Attack of the 500-Foot Porn Star’ and ‘The Island of Dr. Otaku’ would never have graced the big screen drive-in due to their overtly graphic depictions of private body parts and bodily functions. Are both tales over the top? Yes. Could they have benefitted from more imagination and less “gross for gross’s sake” techniques? Definitely.

Other tales were well written, but based on well used concepts that just didn’t present enough “twist” or terror to raise them above their B-movie genre.

For the three stand out tales mentioned above, I recommend this volume.

Book Review: Apeshit (Avant Punk/Eraserhead Press, 2008) by Carlton Mellick III, 178 pages.

Carlton Mellick is considered one of the reigning princes of bizarro fiction, with a dedicated legion of fans. And in Apeshit he takes it to the nth degree, exploiting every horror/bizarro/splatterpunk cliché you can think of, and then attempts to set them on their edge.

So what do you think happens to six teenagers when they take off for a cabin in the woods? Exactly what you expect to happen, but in droves: violence and gore are served up in hyper drive helpings. Mr. Mellick has gone on record to say that he believes reviewers mistake gore for gore’s sake and this is not the method behind the madness in this book. Even his characters are written as clichés. In total, this may well be Mr. Mellick’s bizarro twist for appeal and obvious social commentary.

While brilliantly conceived to encompass the whole genre, this book has its shortcomings. The avalanche of excessive violence and gore desensitize one to the numbness of a yawn. The over the top sex and fetishes elicit a mental ‘ho-hum’. There is no objection to the sex and violence in and of themselves. It is when one is confronted with so much repetition that it loses its appeal. Remember: once you know that the proverbial anvil is going to fall on the coyote’s head, the plot loses steam, the shock/horror value diminishes, and ultimately the character development loses all effect. It ceases to be funny as well.

Don’t get me wrong, ‘Apeshit’ is well written. Even though the dialogue is thin, it is meticulously managed. Our heroine, the nubile Desdemona, a Mohawk headed tattooed cheerleader, handles the mayhem and her ménage lifestyle with grit and grace, but in a book bursting with too much of everything it conveys too little and ultimately leaves one empty.

I will say, though, the cover illustration by Ed Mironiuk is certainly stunning and worthy of a poster size issue.

Book Review: It Came From The Drive – In (BP Books, 2004) various authors, edited by Norman Partridge and Martin H. Greenberg, 342 pages.

For your consideration, here are eighteen tales that step in the footprints of their celluloid ancestors. You know you’re pretty safe whenever you see the name Martin H. Greenberg as editor. That’s because of his reputation for choosing quality works. And this collection is up to those standards.

Stories from, and in no particular order, Edward Bryant, Tia Travis, Sean A. Moore, Nancy A. Collins, Ed Gorman, Gregory Nicoll, Dan Perez, Rex Miller, Norman Partridge, Jay R. Bonansinga, Gary Jonas, Steve Ransic Tem, Karl Edward Wagner, Adam-Troy Castro, Wayne Allen Sallee, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Randy Fox, and Robert Devereaux entirely capture the era.

The stories are basic and streamlined, with non-stop fun. Many younger readers looking for ‘that edge’ of gratuitous and misplaced sex, violence and profanity may find the book boring and rote. But ‘edginess’ has been so watered down these days that it is nice to savor real stories, rather than taking in bilge. Here are highlights:

‘’59 Frankenstein’ by Norman Partridge literally walks off the page at you. The story is alive – alive – alive! If you are not careful, ‘The Thing From Lover’s Lane’ by Nancy A. Collins will sneak up on your car and get you. ‘10585’ is a curious title, but Sean A. Moore makes it a novel story based on an old plot. All I have to say is keeping watching the stars---please keep watching the stars! Gary Jonas’s ‘Blood On Satan’s Harley’ is not only a cool title, but it gives you an eye opening view into the real world of the Hell’s Angel. ‘Bullets Can’t Stop It’ by Wayne Allen Sallee runs so much amok that you can’t stop it and put it down.

Buy this book!

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