Tuesday, April 22, 2014

IT'S ALL HOT AN IT HURTS N STUFF




As a kid, I watched the UHF station channel 44 in Tampa many a summer afternoon and evening, and the highlight for me was a show called Creature Feature. A dapper older gent, made up like Bela Lugosi trying really hard to be a Cure-loving goth with slicked-back hair and an opera cape, hosted it under the name Dr Paul Bearer. I loved this guy, and this show, well before I grasped the joke. He played piano, sang Tom Lehrer songs, and made painful puns about the movies he showed. But the best part was that the featured film almost always involved horrific giant somethings, often in the cheesiest possible black and white. I was enraptured. My dad obtained Bearer’s autograph for me at some local function they both attended, which was cool, but the monsters were cooler. Not that I like giant spiders or hideous misshapen Things lurching out of my closet –


HIDEOUS MISSHAPEN THING: Youuu raaaaannng?

Get back in there. Or at least take that muumuu off, it doesn’t go with those heels!

Anyway. Being scared was delicious fun, but even better for my eight-and-nine-year-old psyche? Being able to laugh at the scary fuckers.

I don’t recall the exact circumstances, but I can tell you that the first Mystery Science Theatre 3000 epsiode I watched was Earth vs the Spider, and I was immediately hooked. This was like watching Creature Feature again, except with amazingly culturally literate best buds who could make me laugh so hard I had to run to the bathroom. Often. While sober.

Of course, only a portion of MST3K episodes involved hideous monsters (unless you count Coleman Francis or Richard Kiel, who up the ante).

"Oh my god you're huge."

For those of you already devoted MSTies, you’ll have your favorite eps, and unless one of them is Pod People you’re dead to me. But for those of you who’ve never seen the show, it ran from 1988 (on public-access TV in MN) until 1999 (dying a sad death on the channel formerly known as SciFi). Many episodes are available on DVD; many more on Youboob. The premise: a mild-mannered janitor with a knack for inventing odd devices works for some mad scientists, who send him unwillingly into space on a satellite in order to force him to watch horrible films and gauge his reactions. Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgson, creator of the show) fights back by building some robot friends: Crow, Tom Servo, Gypsy, and Cambot. They survive the horror of forgotten flicks like Hercules vs the Moon Men or Fugitive Alien by riffing on them nonstop. Dr Forrester (Trace Beaulieu, who also plays Crow T. Robot) and TV’s Frank (Frank Conniff) try to outdo their experiments every week with worse films, drawn from sewers full of Japanese monsters, cheap bargain basements of Sandy Frank imports, and justly-ignored “classics” by directors such as Bert I. Gordon. Joel (later Mike Nelson, after Joel left to explore other projects), Servo (Kevin Murphy), and Crow throw back every ounce of spunkiness that a guy and some robot puppets can muster. While the contest between the Mads and the Satellite of Love crew was a continual stalemate, the viewing audience always won. There were cast changes as the years went on, for good or ill; me, I’m a Joel-and-the-Bots fan. Still have my fan club mug and pins bought at the ConventioConExpoFest-o-Ramas (I attended both...I got stories, yo).


Now, I know there’s folks who hate it when someone talks over the film...even if the film smells so bad even the roaches have left the room. If this is you, leave now. Go watch The Notebook or some other wussy, watered-down crap as punishment for being boring. If I’m bored, or very down, or even gathered with close friends having a blast, there is no better time than now to watch me some MST. Because nobody else can, in the course of one not-quite-two-hour episode, have me sprawled on the floor laughing several pounds off my ass with a skit about death and ruin, the most creepyshit dogfood commercial ever, a Gulf War joke, a pot joke, and a line about Tet (all in "Mighty Jack", one of the marvellously craptastic efforts dubbed and dragged into the US from Japan by Sandy Frank). It also has one of my favorite songs:


"Slow the plot down, laddies, sloooow the plot down..."

That’s right, you little operetta-loving hairgelled monkeys: songs. The guys came up with an original song every few episodes. Even put ‘em on an album. You ain’t seen nothin’ til you’ve been in a group of completely unrelated fans waiting for a bus at the convention who all spontaneously break out singing: “This is the bus, to take us to the hotel...This is the stop, to wait for the bus... He TRIED TO KILL US WITH A FORK LIFT...”



The con, you ask? How was it? Either of them? Oh, well, apart from touring the Best Brains studio and seeing This Island Earth as a LIVE SHOW with the guys in an historic theatre and the PARADE OF TORGOS, I guess it was okay...

Smug? Me?? Huh huh huh...

I put the 'smug' in 'mugshot,' bubbe!

The best thing about MST3K was that, even now when I rewatch it, it allows me to be a grown-up child. I can appreciate the truly awful SFX in the films, the lackluster directing, the lack of plots or subtext or really any redeeming storytelling feature. I snigger at obscure references to literature or music or cult films of better quality. And I am still allowed to feel utter joy at the lair of the giant spider (Carlsbad Caverns) full of desiccated mummies of victims or a pack of rabid Giant Shrews gnawing through a stockade wall, despite the just plain stupidity of both. I can laugh at love again. I can be the best human I can be with this show, and really, isn’t that what life’s all about?


"You're not my REAL father!"

For anyone curious, my all-time favorite eps are as follows(in order as I jot them down here, because really, can you argue the merits of Richard Kiel in a sofa cover over, say, Trumpy the Alf knockoff?). WATCH THEM. WATCH THEM ALL. For KICKS, man.

Godzilla vs the Sea Monster (sorry...no full ep link for this one)

The MST guys went on to do some fantastic projects after the show ended. Mike, Kevin, and Bill Corbett continue to make Rifftrax of movies current and forgotten, and will have a LIVE RIFFING of SHARKNADO in July! (Hell YES I plan to go!) Joel, Frank, Trace, Mary Jo Pehl and Josh Weinstein all riffed under the banner of Cinematic Titanic. But for me, the best snark in the universe remains in these cherished episodes. Watch them. Love them.

Think about it, won’t you? Thank you.

"Frank? Did you leave the tunnel hatch open again?"



Wednesday, April 16, 2014

WENDIGOGO

Horror drinking games are easy: sip when the teenagers/friends/soldiers split up to look around the creepy old cabin/mansion/space station. Sip when someone goes outside to see what that noise was. Cat jumps out at someone seconds before the actual Big Uggy grabs the frightened idiot? Finish your drink. There are so many horror tropes and overused cliches in both horror film and fiction that for a long while the genre went through a slump that became easy to mock. Then it was mocked (“Scary Movie” et al), then came roaring back with some damned original writers. (e.g: Joe Hill, Dan Simmons, Chuck Wendig, Rick Gualtieri, tons more I haven’t had the pleasure of being scared shitless by yet!)



Yeah, this is how I react to people bugging me
while I'm researching, too.

I wish I could say I’m one of those writers. I have no such pretensions. But can I entertain you and keep it from veering into shotglass-friendly territory? Prooooobably.

Inspired a couple of weeks ago by Rick Gualtieri, Chuck Wendig, and my uberlaidback friend Derek Springer, I launched into my first horror novel: WENDIGOGO. (I'm still working on my steampunk story, but this idea captured my enthusiasm, tied it up, tossed it in the trunk of a Lincoln and drove like hell.) I’d originally intended more dark humor, perhaps equal to the grue, but my characters have other ideas. I know where it’s heading, but not precisely what route it will take. The damned thing’s a drunken badger and will go where it wants to, thankyousoveryfuckingmuch. As the Wendigo myth hasn’t yet been beat to death (and, yes, I couldn’t resist the pun since one of those inspirations has also employed it a few times), I’m playing with it. Cannibalism! Greed in a time of famine and want! A dick joke or two! (Are you happy, Derek? Yes. There will be dick jokes.) And plenty of geektastic references and humor. Some of that humor involves cannibalism. If you enjoy the series “Hannibal,” you already know that eating humans can be hilarious. So hey! Let’s take a look, shall we?



I think I'd prefer to be served au jus, but to each their own.


Mild-mannered everygeek Dave...no. Screw that. Insecure, booknerd snark cannon of ineptitude Dave Wending accompanies his wealthy girlfriend Darcy Mueller to an archaeological dig within a prehistoric burial mound. He doesn’t want to be there due to his allergies to rich assholes and oil company sponsorships, and general angst regarding his relationship status. He’s not the most balletic goob ever to tromp around a priceless Native American site. Oh, and it’s really fucking cold. This is what happens:


*****


Darcy gave her father a plaintive look, and he turned to the archaeologist. “Is it possible we could take a peek?” Mueller asked Lightfoot. “We’ll be careful not to touch anything.” His smile was that of a man who believes himself entitled to anything he desires.

Lightfoot paused, silent, then gave one nod to the grad student. A frown scrunched up the young man’s dark brows, but he grudgingly peeled back the top sheet and turned on a large worklamp perched beside the grave. Darcy started back as if slapped. “Ugh!”

That’s gotta be good, Dave thought, and quickly moved to join her, Mueller and Lightfoot following more slowly as they crossed the maze of rectangular holes in the dark earth. Dave glanced up again at Darcy as he neared the grave; her expression was one of disgust, and she seemed unable to look straight at whatever lay there. She saw him, and suddenly cried, “David, be careful!”

His sneaker slid on what felt like a frozen slab of rock. Oh for fuck’s sake, way to go, Mr Graceful! Desperately he thrust his hands out as the slide turned into a full stumble, his feet unable to find a stopping point. Oh fuck don’t land on anything don’t land on anything don’t—His knees and elbows slammed onto the hard dirt. With a yelp of anger and pain, he scrabbled back from the edge of the grave. He banged sideways into one of the tarp walls; it gave, but not before bouncing him toward the hole again. Dave threw both hands down, trying to brake, knowing it was going to shred his palms, but better that than destroying a millennium-old set of bones. His right hand bore the brunt of his weight; he grunted as the rough-packed earth cut into his skin. The lip of the pit crumbled suddenly under his left hand, and as another jamming pain shot up his arm from the elbow, something slashed his fingers. “Oww! Motherfucker!”

Hands went under his armpits and hefted him up immediately. Dave blinked away tears, glasses askew, grimacing at the myriad of hurts competing for his attention. He bit back more curses, trying to salvage some dignity, though he knew it was a lost cause. “You all right?” Mueller asked. Dave sucked in a breath, trying to take stock of himself. The grad student was on his other side. Together, he and Mueller walked Dave back a few steps and sat him down on a trunk. Darcy approached fearfully, her eyes flicking from his knees to his face.

“David, are you okay?” she asked. He settled his glasses on his nose with smarting fingers, and looked at his left hand. Blood trickled steadily from two fingers, and the palm was scraped red.

“No, I am not.” He calmed his breathing, angry at himself. A dirt floor full of holes, so of course, you just have to rubberneck at whatever is making your chicken-little girlfriend go all squicky. “Please tell me I didn’t just obliterate a priceless archaeological discovery.”

“I think both of you will live,” Lightfoot said, a tinge of amusement in his gravelly voice.

Dave shot him a wry look; the poker face he saw in response made his appreciation of the dry old archaeologist go up a notch or two. Mueller appeared far more unhappy, and the grad student’s face said This is why we don’t let you cattle around our priceless discoveries, moron. Dismissing the kid, Dave checked his elbows and knees. His jeans had held up, though he was sure he had more scrapes and definitely bruises on his shins; red gashes marked his forearms when he gingerly rolled up his sleeves. Darcy paled, looking away. Dave squeezed his left fingers in his right hand to staunch the flow of blood, and finally peered into the grave to see what the hell had cut him.

The skull gaping sightlessly back wasn’t what he’d expected. Instead of mummified remains, or a ceremonial mask, the mud-darkened skull of a stag lay at the top of a humanoid figure. Animal-skin robes covered the stark ribcage, and a necklace similar to the one Darcy had been admiring lay heavily on its chest. More unnerving than the hybrid corpse, however, was the wet gleam of red on a pointed antler-tip. He leaned forward, squinting. “Holy shit...”

from WENDIGOGO (work in progress, KA Silva 2014)

*****


Oh yes. There will be blood. Tasty, slather-it-down-your-beard-like-BBQ-sauce blood. And Star Wars jokes. Possibly together.

I have no projected finish date yet, but I’m determined and charging at this thing like a blind rhino with a confused egret stuck up its ass. It will be bloody, it will be funny, and with work and luck it will be fun.

Because, well, hell...life’s too short not to vicariously savor human flesh.

Keep your shot glass out. I’ll tell you the rules. And I’ll tell you when it’s fucking soup!



Sunday, April 6, 2014

Getting Old Is Hell

{Note: a bit of a different post this time. This small glimpse of Hell is in response to a flash fiction challenge at Chuck Wendig's blog.}

Getting Old Is Hell

Richard couldn’t pinpoint the day the zombie took over his body.

It was more of a gradual descent: he would be fine, just unable to recall the name of the person who said hello to him at the supermarket. Moments of uncertainty in the midst of a task he’d done a thousand times. It seemed like after Millie died, these increased. Then one morning, staring in the mirror, feeling groggy, he’d seen the zombie start picking at his teeth with his finger. Richard started fully awake, and tried to still the movement, but the thing in control of his body just kept staring with vacant brown eyes, and obsessively scratching a bit of last night’s dinner from his crooked teeth. Stop that, Richard thought. The finger kept picking. He could hear it, faintly, a bare branch on an eave: skritch skritch. He tried to tear his gaze away, but he wasn’t in charge of his eyes anymore.

And then suddenly he was fine. He jerked his hand out of his mouth, gasping. He blinked, moved; his reflection paced him. Everything was fine.

Except a few days later it happened again: in the middle of driving, he felt frightened, lost. While he dithered over which turn to take, the zombie blithely drove on. The zombie turned on the car radio. “I Only Have Eyes for You.” Richard couldn’t make his hand switch it off again. That had been his and Millie’s song and he couldn’t bear to hear it now. The zombie nodded happily. “Yowza,” it said. Then it sang along, fumbling most of the words. Two towns past his exit, the zombie went away and Richard was just Richard again.

The zombie forgot to pick up milk. The zombie wandered the house in the middle of the night, and once stood in the street yelling at the dumpster until the cops showed up, leaving Richard unable to explain why he’d felt the need to disturb the entire neighborhood cursing at “Phil.” “I don’t know any Phil,” he told the officer, and looked longingly at his house. “Please, I just want to go back to bed.” The house belonged to a neighbor. The cops walked him to a door he didn’t recognize, until he saw framed photographs of himself and Millie inside.

He wasn’t happy about Jenny moving in. When she carefully explained it would save them both some money, the zombie snapped at her to get a job. She looked surprised. “But, Dad...I work downtown. At St Joe’s Hospital. Remember?”

“Of course,” Richard said. He knew that. Of course he did. He’d never been prouder than when she walked across that stage to receive her medical school diploma. “That was a wonderful day,” he said aloud. 

“Yowza,” the zombie agreed.

Jenny laughed. “You always used to say that! How funny.” She teased him with stories he could almost recall, stories about a little girl and her parents at the beach, hunting the sand for shells. They were good stories.

But Richard skulked about the house, peering around corners, never knowing when he would be imprisoned while that Other pottered off and left the soup burning on the stovetop, or carefully dressed in suit and tie and walked out to a job Richard retired from twenty years ago.

Over months, the balance shifted in the zombie’s favor. Jenny found them at the mall once. The zombie was arguing over an umbrella in a department store which he insisted he’d brought today because of the rain. Richard had never seen it before. He left it behind at Jenny’s coaxing, and meekly went with her outside, where the summer sun burned his bare head. Fixing dinner for them, he fell to weeping when Jenny insisted Mom wasn’t coming home tonight, that Mom was dead.

He knew that. Of course he did. But the zombie sobbed and had to be put to bed, where he became entranced by the sound of the ocean. Richard knew it was a false sound, from a little box. After awhile, the white-noise waves irritated him. The zombie let it drone all night, gazing raptly at the closed curtains.

The doctor prescribed Aricept. Fish oil. Then catheters; something about his bladder not emptying fully. Jenny had to help every time; the zombie couldn’t remember how to use the damned thing. Richard watched helplessly through his own eyes while the zombie hummed and swayed, frustrating Jenny’s attempt to insert the catheter. When she barked finally, “Dad, hold still!” he let loose. Urine sprayed the walls, the floor, his daughter. Richard keened, and strained to apologize. The zombie snapped.

“You stupid bitch look what you did! Clean this up! You’re fired!” he howled. Jenny gaped, then fled. The zombie resumed humming that damned song, that doo-wop. Richard struggled to regain control, piss soaking his pants. Jenny shut her door; he heard her crying softly. Then she spoke on the phone for a while in a low voice.

Richard forced all his will into his right hand. He picked up her shaving razor. His fingers shook, but he brought it slowly to his throat. He could thwart the zombie. He could save his daughter this hell. Save them all.

“Oh Jesus, Dad, what are you doing?”

“Shaving,” said the zombie. “When’s lunch?”

The nursing facility had a beautiful fa├žade, wide shady arcades with well-ordered gardens. The zombie tottered beside Jenny, serenely greeting attendants in white shirts. The sunroom was all long thin windows and quiet babbling. Jenny listened to the litany of activities: music therapy, fingerpaints, sorting exercises. She nodded. She said goodbye and left. The orderlies strapped Richard’s body in a chair. Mustn’t wander off. Isn’t it nice here? A nurse offered him a drink of water, and a pill. The zombie took them.
The sunbeams stretched long across the wood floor. Someone creaked and giggled as she drifted by. It was all lovely. Richard begged, cried unheard, screamed inside his skull.


“Yowza,” said the zombie.

******

{Author's note: This is the worst hell I have personally witnessed.}