Beyond The Mists of Katarakt: Geeked Presents A Retrospective of H. R. Giger.

Giger with cape

Beyond the Mists of the Katarakt: Geeked Presents A Retrospective of H.R. Giger. 

By Bob Pastorella

 

I first discovered Hans Rudolf ‘Ruedi’ Giger’s work when I was just a teenager, though at the time, I was much too young to put all the connections together. The science-fiction horror film Alien was playing on the Showtime premium channel, and I admit my motivations for watching the film were not in hopes of finally seeing a popular scary movie. Several of my peers made mention of the scenes at the end featuring the main actress wearing only a tank top and tiny underwear, trying to exit her space ship in an escape pod, unaware the film’s alien antagonist was hiding in the escape pod as well. The moment of reveal, when the creature is finally exposed to our heroine, and the audience, burned into my mind’s eye, captivating my imagination even more than the beautiful, scantily clad star of the show, Sigourney Weaver.  

 This was years before the internet, and at this time, it was difficult finding any information about this monster maker, this H.R Giger, pronounced Gee-ger with two hard g’s, whose name was frequently mentioned in the pages of horror movie magazines such as Fangoria and Famous Monsters of Filmland. Those glossy photos were mere seeds of inspiration, forming tenuous connections within my fertile imagination, compelling me to create my own fantastic worlds. Yes, it was Ray Bradbury that made me want to write, but my stories were filled with the monsters Giger created.  

 It’s not difficult to pin down exactly what it is about Giger’s work that makes him so popular. Beautiful, yet grotesque, disturbing and erotic, his art brings our nightmares and fantasies to life. To understand his art, you must know his background. Giger suffers from night-terrors, and turned to painting as a form of therapy. He studied industrial design in Zurich in the mid 60’s, giving him the skill set to create the stunning landscapes he’s painted throughout the years. The majority of the art he is most known for stems from this education. With an airbrush and acrylic paint, he utilized pieces of metal grids as stencils to paint the backgrounds, his imagination filling in the rest. Heavily influenced by Austrian painter Ernst Fuchs and Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali, Giger blazed his own trail by using his inner demons with the techniques of the masters. 

 Alien became such a monumental success that it spawned several sequels and made Giger a household name for people in the horror business. He had several exhibitions through the years, and has published books of his art, some of which are now out of print and fetch rather high prices online. A new copy of his first collection, Necronomicon, is listed online from private collectors from $250 and up. I managed to find a copy of his second collection, Necronomicon II, for a reasonable price online. Used, but in pristine condition, that particular tome is one my most treasured possessions. 

 It’s both odd and comforting to know that Giger does not maintain an online social persona. His website, http://www.hrgiger.com contains links to his museum website, his publisher here in the states, and Amazon links for his books. I say it’s comforting because his reasons for not maintaining an online presence is to not come under the influence of things he might come across on the internet. He doesn’t do email, or surf the web, and will only conduct interviews at his museum. He is a pure artist, harnessing his inner demons for the art he produces, unfettered by outside influences. 

 There is one tidbit of information I found very strange at his website was the mention of Giger signing autographs. He dislikes signing mere pieces of paper, but is more than happy to sign one his books, prints, or posters. 

 “Please note that Giger feels very uncomfortable when the interest appears to be more about his person than in his artwork and he tries to discourage celebrity worship and cult mentality.”

 In this day and age, one can never be too careful. 

 Fortunately, the internet is filled with low resolution copies of his art, which is how most people have actually come to appreciate him. This is how I found the majority of his art, and often spend hours looking at the digital prints. Upon looking at Giger’s art, one can see particular motifs appear in practically every piece. Surely one can observe the ‘biomechanical’ aspect, the insertion of machine into living flesh. But if one was to look closer and reflect on the piece, they would find glimpses of their own nightmares depicted on the canvas. I’ve read Carl Jung’s theory of Collective Unconscious, how personal stimuli is collected, ingrained, and shared in the mind of each member of a particular species. 

 The question is, are these shared imaginations, or shared memories?

 I believe I’ve found evidence of this in several of Giger’s paintings. One piece in particular, Katarakt, is a beautiful waterfall with hints of some rock formation barely visible behind the cascade. Upon closer inspection, it’s apparent that this is no naturally occurring waterfall. The entire rock shelf and overhang appear to be made of the bones and skulls of strange creatures, while the rocks at the base are actually masses of squirming tentacles that flow out from the plunge-pool into the river. The skulls behind the waterfall appear to be staring back, fully aware we can see them. 

 Long before I ever heard of H.R. Giger, before I even started writing, I suffered from terrible nightmares. I dreamed of drowning, being chased by tornados, or running away from an unseen force trying to grab me. But the one nightmare that has stayed with me longer than any other is me wading through a river of tentacles, staring at a waterfall that was staring back at me.

 The exact same waterfall Giger painted in Katarakt.

Katarakt2 

 

 

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 Painting is an artist reaching out to the viewer, attempting to make an emotional connection, presenting a single moment in time that will provoke a reaction. Giger’s work is no exception, though sometimes it takes several viewings and careful study to make all the connections. Art is subjective to the viewer, and infinitely more personal once that first bond is made. Through the years, I have had the time to study Giger’s painting as one who appreciates fine art. One must look past the technique, past the methodology, into the heart of the imagery. Only then can the relationship begin. 

The artwork that influenced Alien was created long before the film’s concept was put on paper. The film’s writer, Dan O’Bannon, was working on Dune, albeit a radically different version of the film that wouldn’t be made until years later. It was O’Bannon’s nightmares of how braconid wasps lay their eggs inside their host that inspired the infamous ‘chest-burster’ scene of the film. When he saw Giger’s artwork for Dune, and subsequent artwork from Necronomicon, O’Bannon knew he had found his man. The connection was made, and the nightmare visions were released to the masses. 

Katarakt was the first connection. That initial revelation, that Giger painted my nightmare, was immediately written off as a coincidence. The rational man knows it’s impossible to share dreams. Perhaps it was just intense deja vu, or a repressed memory of seeing the painting earlier, its waterfall, the eyes looking from behind the water, imprinted in my mind long before I consciously remembered it. 

 The Tourist series of paintings were created for a film that never happened. Script, rewrites, budget, art design, millions of dollars aimed at all the right people, and no film. Giger was brought into the production in an attempt to gain some momentum for the project. Several A-List actresses were approached for the role of the main character, an alien living amongst us, interacting with us on a daily basis yet maintaining a close relationship with her fellow travelers. To this day, the script is regarded as one of Hollywood’s worst kept secrets, with one studio literally sitting on the rights in fear that another studio will make them look foolish if they release it. 

My first encounter with this series by Giger was again in a film magazine, and those images burned into my brain. One painting in particular, The Tourist VI, shows four alien creatures gathered as though sitting for a portrait. The style is classic Giger; monotone yet almost translucent where concerning the alien flesh, impeccable shading and detail. The internet again allowed me to collect some of the low resolution images of the series, which gave me an opportunity to study them much closer. Perhaps it was how the painting was displayed in the magazine when I first saw it, or maybe the memory of my nightmare has distorted, but I think there might be two different versions of this painting. The one I found on the internet depicted the same four aliens, only now they all appear to be smiling. On a deeper level, I find mockery in their cheeky grins, like they know. 

One of Giger’s influences was the American visionary, H. P. Lovecraft. As we all know, Lovecraft’s greatest gift was presenting us with the means to dive into his vast and horrifying world as we see fit, on our own personal terms. Giger’s The Tourist is possibly the closest showing Lovecraft’s influence. It’s well known that the writer from Providence, Rhode Island also suffered from ‘night-terrors’ that fueled his tales of cosmic horror. 

If Lovecraft gave the directions to the road to madness, then surely Giger is the cartographer of those desolate nightmare lands. 

Dear reader, you know these lands as well as anyone. Is it any wonder that the dreams that affect us the most, the visions that seem the most real, are the nightmares that we all share? Once the connection is made, the dreams come more frequently, allowing us more than a fleeting moment to remember them. Once remembered, they are imbedded in the neurons of our mind, blending with our fantasies into our own personal reality. When the dream ends, we feverishly try to slip back into the nightmare, against our better judgement, because no matter how scared we are, not knowing what happens next may be even more terrifying. 

 Or is it that once that bond is made, the contours of the mind blending with reality, that we can’t stand not knowing the truth? 

 The Tourist VI 2

 

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Simply called Facehugger, this piece of art immediately brings Lovecraft to mind. The original design called for an aggressive octopus with hyperactive tentacles, but when Dan O’Bannon saw what Giger was working on, the tentacles turned into fingers. And though tentacles illicit a squirmy, slimy reaction, fingers have more purpose. There’s something about a grasping hand, specifically the fingers, that illicit a sense of urgency, the need to get as far away as possible before the stranglehold begins. The Facehugger image is iconic. Once seen, we know what will happen if we’re trapped by the creature. We also know that some of us may not have been so lucky to escape. Giger’s original concept featured a single eye between the elongated digits, but he quickly removed it and opted for a more ‘instinctual’ approach for the creature. 

This horrific hand, whose one purpose in life is to fill our belly with the beast, is an instant archetype of the night-terrors shared by all who possess the ability to dream. Are these the shared horrors, studied by Lovecraft, depicted by Giger, that haunt us all? The question remains; if these are shared by all who dream, are they from the depths of our imagination, or remnants of repressed memories? Are these memories mere totems that foretell out future? It is very likely that within the confines of our vast universe, maleficent forces plot our very destruction, that our creation was accidental and unintentional, yet because of our desire to unearth the truth, these forces wish to stamp us out completely so as to keep their secret safe. 

Study Giger’s works of art for too long and you’ll hear one of the vile things skittering around behind your shower curtain. That soft tapping coming from the kitchen is not your water faucet dripping. And when you sleep, surely the creature will visit you, forcing you down dark corridors and unlit hallways. You pass through sticky cobwebs and slip on the slime on the floor. Deeper and deeper you go the never-ending path, twisting and turning, growing darker by the second. Reaching out into the pitch, you hope to find some place to hide. An open door, a hole you can pound away through the crumbling sheetrock. Once you find sanctuary, you try to hold your breath to listen for the creature, but your heart pounds in your head, louder and louder until you think it will explode. 

Slowly, you calm down. Breathing back to normal. It’s only a dream, right? The night terrors getting to you once again. In the quiet, you hear a gentle tap…tap…tap…and you know what you’ve known all along, the realization coming so hard it makes you snap your eyes tight. 

It doesn’t need eyes to find you.

And the tapping, you know what it is. The creature with no eyes, creeping closer to you, seeking you out from the vibrations of your pulse. And the others, with their eyes and mocking smiles, gathered to watch you slide into madness. The reaching fingers stretch into tentacles, a river of tentacles squirming to grasp at you, cascading over the skulls and bones of the ones that came before, that will come again. And when the final connection falls into place, your mind burns white, yet all you can do is stare at the abomination before you. You cannot help yourself as your prayers leave your lips. The fingers crawl upon your leg, whipping tail poised for the chokehold, and yet you still stare beyond the mists of the waterfall.

And you see yourself staring back. 

facehuggers

Happy Medium Gets All The Girls.

Yeah, yeah yeah…I’ve been busy, so give me a break.

After a long hiatus, sabbatical, whatever you want to call it, I’m back for 2013. I want to try to use my personal slice of the interweb to chronicle, journal, whatever, but I’m not going to promise that I’ll be posting regularly or anything. There are three things that could happen here:

1. You won’t see another post from me for a while.

2. You’ll get tired of my frequent updates here.

3. I’ll be able to reach some kind of Happy Medium.

Old Happy Medium, middle brother to Grand Large and Little Bit. Happy gets all the girls.

So, what does ObscuraDrome have in store for me and you?

Glad you asked.

I’m working on a badass series character. This is a big leap for me. Series characters take a lot of work, and there’s a lot of writing involved because it’s really just one long ass project. Gonna pound out the first book, outline the second, and take a break and writing something totally different while trying to secure an agent. Surely, there will be roadblocks in the way, but I’m a Rhino, always charging, so I can handle anything.

Especially after the last eight months…bring it. I can handle it, trust me.

I’ll be using my blog as a soundboard to spout off theories, ideas, rants and raves during the writing process of this series. There might posts similar to the WriterDrome/HorrorDrome posts in the mix, but the official WriterDrome and HorrorDrome columns are taking an extended vacation. Media reviews will be handled through my ManArchy Magazine column, Geeked. Pimping will be filtered through Facebook/Twitter/Google+.

ObscuraDrome is just me and my writing.

Streamlined, for your protection.

My Top Ten Lists will continue, got one coming soonish, because those are fun, and generate a lot of attention to my blog. I also hope to do another FaceOff with Richard Thomas, or anyone else who wants to jump in the ring.

So there you have it. 2013 looks to be challenging already, with roadblocks and hurdles all along the road. But this is my road, and my watch, and I’ve just begun my journey. Take my hand, listen to my voice, and follow me into the ObscuraDrome.

The Master of Horror vs. The Sultan of Suspense: The King/Koontz Face/Off.

Last month, good friend and fellow Horror writer Richard Thomas commented on my Cut Your Teeth On These: 10 Horror Books You Must Read article, which has been quite a hit here at Obscuradrome. His comment was simple: Shame on me for not including any Stephen King novels in my list? King was briefly mentioned the article, but I purposely omitted him from the list because if you’re writing Horror, King is a must read author. Same with Peter Straub, and Dean Koontz. Richard also mentioned that I didn’t mention Jack Ketchum, but I’m saving him and a whole slew of other writers for another article. I’m a big fan of King, and Koontz, so I don’t want anyone to think I don’t care for them, or that I’m ignoring their importance in the field of Horror.

Both King and Koontz are often listed as Horror writers, and for the most part, I agree. Honestly, I feel the scale is a little tipped in King’s favor when it comes to all out Horror, while Koontz is the Sultan of Suspense, with Horror fiction rounding out his box of tools. But hey, they’re both in the General Fiction section of the bookstore, both of their last names start with the letter K, and they’ve got an amazing amount of books out. Obviously, they are doing something right.

Richard suggested we do a Face/Off, King vs. Koontz. Our favorite five from each author. This article is the result of that face off.

Truth be known, both writers have their pros and cons. With King’s penchant for writing about writers, and Koontz obsession with tidy, and Happy, endings, both writers can get tiresome. But when it comes to Horror and Suspense, neither of these Kaisers of Killer Thriller Koolness can be beat.

In the Red Corner, weighing in at…

Here’s Richard to talk about his choice, Stephen King.

Stephen King: His Five Best Books Ever

Bob Pastorella and I are having a discussion about King vs. Koontz, so I’m posting up my five favorite books by Stephen King, and he’s posting up his five favorite books by Dean Koontz (if he can FIND five). I kid, I kid. I grew up on King, Koontz and Straub so I definitely am a fan of all of them. With Koontz it’s his older titles that really resonate with me, books like Phantoms, Watchers, and Whispers. Basically, you’re safe with any book of his that has a one-word title and is at least five years ago. Although, I do kind of have a soft spot for the Odd Thomas series. But this is about King, who in my opinion is one of the best storytellers ever.

I have a definite three titles that I always mention when talking about King. They never change. I’m talking about The Stand, It, and The Shining. I’ll talk about those in a minute. But my other two, well, maybe they aren’t the most obvious choices. The other two titles are The Dead Zone and The Long Walk. Let’s talk about these fantastic books.

Note: Bob made me promise to leave out the Dark Tower series, which if I could include that as a whole, would definitely be on this list.

The Stand. This is an epic good vs. evil story and one of his longest books ever written. The original version clocked in at 823 pages, but the uncut paperback is over 1,400. This is a title that really requires a commitment, the number of pages, the characters, the scope of the book—it’s an epic journey. But from the opening scene, a man fleeing from an outbreak of a super-flu, up until the climactic ending, this is one of his best. Mother Abigail represents the light, and Randall Flagg represents the dark. We get to root for everyday good guys like Stu Redman, as well. He’s just a down-home boy trying to do the right thing. And he’s easy to cheer on, you get connected to him, want to see him succeed. The book is divided into three sections: “Captain Trips,” which is about the outbreak and spread of the virus; “On the Border,” which brings the bands of misfits together; and “The Stand,” which is the final confrontation. If you had to read one and only one King title, this would be the one for me.

The Shining. I know that a lot of people think of the movie when you bring up this book, and that’s okay. I happen to love the movie, but I’m not sure if that’s because I’m a fan of Jack Nicholson or the work of Stanley Kubrick. King is famous for hating the film because the ending was changed, but I still loved it. This book is the story of the Torrance family. The father, Jack, is an alcoholic writer with a wicked temper who takes a job as the caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, in Colorado, one winter. He has in fact lost his job as a teacher after assaulting a student, and he even hurt his son, Danny, which sobers him up. I can’t think of a couple of catch phrases that are more commonplace than “Here’s, Johnny!” which Jack utters while chopping down a bathroom door after he’s lost his mind, trying to kill his wife, Wendy, or the words he types on the typewriter “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” over and over again filling up page and pages, revealing his insanity, or the utterances of Danny as he looks in the mirror and says “Redrum, redrum,” which is murder backwards. That’s a part of pop culture history. Danny has some supernatural abilities, which come into play throughout the story, and there is actually going to be a sequel coming out soon. This book scared me so much that I had to put it down and pick up a bible when I was in high school. This is one of King’s best. It’s not as long as The Stand, only 447 pages, so many people are drawn to that, as well.

It. Maybe it’s the clown, Pennywise, or maybe it’s the vulnerability of the kids, but It is my third favorite book by Stephen King. It’s a very unsettling book, partly because you constantly worry about the kids. They form a group called The Loser’s Club. Each of them has something unique that makes them different, outcasts.  Ben is fat, Bill has a stutter (made worse by the death of his brother), Richie is a smart-ass, Stan is Jewish, Bev is the only girl and beaten by her father, and Mike is black. They are a rag-tag gang, but when they make a clubhouse, they discover “It” and a possible cure, in The Ritual of the Chud. The story jumps back and forth between the initial stand they take in 1957 and the “current day” as adults in 1984. I won’t reveal what the beast is, what “It” looks like, but it’s pretty terrifying. There is a very controversial scene towards the end of the book, which I won’t mention here, because it would spoil it for you but it’s somewhere between disturbing and hauntingly touching, so you’ll have to decide for yourself. A must read King book, in my opinion. It’s a long one as well, about 1,100 pages, but worth it, trust me.

These three are what I consider the holy trinity of King’s work. If you’ve never read his writing, I’d consider these to be perfect examples of what he does well—create lifelike characters that we care about, stories that are hypnotic and layered, and epic yarns that leave you satisfied and full. Some people say he is wordy, that his novels could be cut in half, but I couldn’t disagree more. You either like what he does or you don’t, but I wouldn’t edit his books down. Some people mention Salem’s Lot as being one of his best, and I’d say it’s probably my number six pick. The Dark Tower series is also fantastic. He’s also a great short story writer. Really, I can’t think of a book he’s written that is flat out terrible. I loved Needful Things, Misery, Carrie—there are really so many great titles. Here are my final two selections, probably not the most obvious choices.

The Dead Zone. I’m not sure why this book stands out in my memory. Maybe it has to do with the movie, which starred Christopher Walken. Maybe I just really loved rooting for Johnny Smith, a character that acquires the ability to see into the future when he touches your skin. His noble quest to stop a politician from being elected, in order to stop World War Three from happening—it’s such a wild story. I can’t imagine what it would feel like if you were Johnny. Maybe it’s what Lee Harvey Oswald felt, when he assassinated Kennedy—that he was saving the world? The idea of a crooked politician, well that’s nothing new, but the idea of revealing to the world what this man, Greg Stillson, is really like? I find that deeply satisfying. When we see Stillson kick a dog to death as a young man, we are let in on this secret, shown what a bad man he is, but it’s not until the final scenes, when Johnny tries to assassinate Stillson that his true character is revealed. Loved this book.

The Long Walk.This novel may come as a surprise to many. Written at Richard Bachman (a pseudonym that King adopted in the 1970s so he could publish more titles without flooding the market) it’s a slim volume, only 384 pages, but a fascinating mix of Shirley Jackson’s story, “The Lottery” and a modern day Hunger Games. It’s also been revealed that it is actually the first book that King wrote, before Carrie. It’s set in the near future in a dystopian and somewhat despotic and totalitarian version of the United States. There is an annual contest called “The Long Walk” which is a national sport, part lottery, part military draft, with the entire group of teens walking to their deaths, with only the last person standing winning glory and riches. Ray Garraty is our protagonist, and it is through his eyes that we meet the other teens that are in this competition, hear their stories, and one by one watch them die. It’s a powerful book, dark for sure, but one of his best.

King is portrayed as a horror writer, and some of his novels and short stories, are certainly horrific. But he’s so much more than that. His work crosses genres into fantasy, science fiction, suspense, and even into that dry and snobby land known as literary fiction, at times. He has written over 50 novels and 200 short stories. I can’t even begin to list the number of awards he’s gotten. To me, King is one of the best storytellers to ever write. I am unashamed to say that I love his work, and have read every book he has published. He is an inspiration to me, and if you can’t find a title in his massive collection of work that blows you away, well, then you aren’t really trying.

_____________________________________________________________________

Thanks Richard.

The really cool thing about this is that I agree with Richard on most his choices, though I do think Pet Semetary is King’s scariest book.

When I was just a young buck, I would go to the library and browse through the stacks and stacks of mass-market paperbacks, looking at the pictures on the front covers and reading the descriptions on the back, trying to decide what books I wanted to read. Time and time again I landed on a novel by Dean Koontz. At first, it was because someone else had already checked out all the Stephen King books. Eventually, I discovered Koontz was a true force to be reckoned with, the yang to King’s yen. Similar, yet different in so many ways. It’s easy to lump both King and Koontz into one category by themselves, but you’d be doing yourself a major disservice by doing so. Here are my favorite novels by Dean Koontz.

In the Blue Corner, weighing in at…

Watchers. You can’t go wrong with a golden retriever. Koontz tugs at our heartstrings with his blast of a novel, while tickling that spot in your brain where conspiracy theories breed. If you always thought that the government made an evil alliance with science, this novel will only make you a true believer.  You write about what you know, and Koontz found inspiration in his own dog. The story is quite simple, which is exactly why it worked so well. Exploring canyons in California, Travis Cornell is wondering if there’s any reason to go on at all. That’s when he meets a dog fleeing a horrifying creature. He helps the  golden retriever escape and soon learns this is no ordinary dog. This dog is part of a scientific experiment, super intelligent, and able to communicate with humans with various means, like using the letters of scrabble game to spell out words. The creature, also an experiment, is hellbent on killing the dog. Top that off with a very human hitman hired to eliminate the creatures and everyone else they come in contact with, and you have makings of an instant classic. Koontz goes way over the top here, but you never notice it. Impeccable pacing, with a little soggy bottom because, it’s Koontz, and everything has to work out in the end, right? Right?

Midnight. Koontz first hardback New York Times number one bestseller, is a massive showoff of what he does best. Take a handful of people and put them into strange situations, force them to figure it all out, all the while running for their lives. Starting off with a vicious attack on a woman jogging at night, three people with no connection at all converge to find out what is happening to the people of Moonlight Cove. The reasons why the people of this normally quiet town are turning into beasts are legion, but the main reason, the real reason, is so over-the-top that if I mention it here, you won’t read the book. It’s that crazy. To take such a crazy idea, the stuff of fantasy, and make it happen in a story with such seriousness, is the work of a genius, or a madman. Maybe both. Koontz, of course, is a professional/genius/madman, and simply grabs you by the neck and makes you believe what is going on. He uses short, tight chapters, with impeccable pacing, steering us exactly where we need to go with the story. Combining Horror and Science-Fiction, this one is a must read for any fan of suspense.

Strangers. This will be brief, for to tell too much about this story will give it all away. A group of seemingly unconnected people are compelled to go to the middle of the desert, unaware that others are suffering from similar circumstances. Strange dreams, brainwashing, suicide, murder. What is happening to these people? Global conspiracy is a cool concept, but if you don’t get down into the level of the people affected by it, the story soon becomes mired down with no sense of direction. The real trick is getting personal with the characters, reading on to discover exactly what they have at stake, which builds suspense and excitement. Koontz shows his mastery of situation, stringing you along, and once you realize your treading over familiar territory, it’s too late, you’re in too deep, you having a blast and just don’t care, and you just can’t stop reading.

Phantoms. I’ve always been fascinated with strange mass vanishings. Ghost-towns, the lost Roanoke Colony. The Mayans. Throughout history, large groups of people have just disappeared off the face of the planet. What happened to these people? Koontz gives us a chilling look at what could have happened to these people. If you haven’t read this book, but have perhaps seen the film, please, please for the love of God, force those memories of the film from your mind and give this book a whirl. Trust me, if you like your Science-Fiction on the gory side, this is a book for you. This was my first Koontz book to ever read, and it blew me away. At the time, I was convinced Stephen King was the Master of Horror. But after reading this book, I saw that there was another who could wear the crown, and his name was Dean Kootnz.

Whispers. The second Koontz book I read happens to be my favorite. Like Phantoms, if you’ve seen this film, please strike it from your memory and find this book. Published one year before Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, Koontz takes us into the mind of a twisted killer. Bruno Frye believes certain woman are possessed by the spirit of his mother. Horribly abused as a young child, he still fears his mother long after she died. Frye must kill these women to keep his mother away from him. After he attacks a young woman he recently met, who pulls a gun on him, Frye escapes. The police don’t believe her because Frye has an alibi. When the police call his house hundreds of miles away, Frye answers the phone, proving he couldn’t have been anywhere near the woman. He attacks her again, this time receiving some severe stab wounds from the woman. Police find Frye’s body, but the case is far from over. Frye returns from the grave to attack and kill again. If you’re thinking there’s a twist to this story, you’re right, and it’s awesome. Definitely not something you’d find from the mind of Stephen King, though it seems as though he should have thought of this one for sure. Once you find out what the whispers really are, your skin will crawl.

Blow and counterblow. Punch and jab. These two bestselling writers have been hitting away at each other for years, occupying that same prestigious letter K spot in the stacks at the bookstore, and neither have been able to bring the other down. Why? Even though at first glance it’s easy to lump both authors into the same category, you really can’t do that and be fair about it. King is the master of creating characters we can all relate too, while Koontz places his story people in strange and interesting situations; two very different aspects of building suspense, both very effective.

After fifteen rounds, the judges score this bout…

Can you really tally up the points here?

The winner, and the remaining Heavyweight Champion of The World is…

The Readers.

You didn’t really think we’d be crazy enough to pit these two masters together and have a victor other than the readers. More than likely, these two guys have been unconsciously trying to out do one another for so long it’s not even a contest anymore. So who really wins? Us, of course. Now quit trying to figure who’s better and get to reading.

Click Here To Go To Stephen King’s Amazon Page.

Click Here To Go To Dean Koontz’ Amazon Page.

Unspoiled Tropes That Make You Say Wow: Obscuradrome Reviews The Cabin In The Woods.

This is a review of the Blu-Ray Edition of The Cabin In The Woods . This review does not contain any spoilers. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, and you’re on the fence about seeing it, consider this: If you like Horror movies, you will probably like the movie. If you do NOT like Horror movies, and instead like watching documentaries or Masterpiece Theater, then you should just quit reading this right now and find something on the Discovery or History Channel, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

The Cabin In The Woods is a film starring Chris Hemsworth, Kristen Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Richard Jenkins, and Bradley Whitford. Directed by Drew Goddard (writer for Buffy, Angel, Lost) and produced by Joss Whedon (Buffy, Angel, Dollhouse), if you read between the lines of the director’s and producer’s pedigree, you’ll see a clue into what the film is about, especially the Lost, and the Dollhouse clues. Not literally between the lines–figuratively between the lines.

This part of the review is called the synopsis. The reviewer briefly writes what the film is about. Five stereotypical kids go to a cabin in the woods. One by one they are killed. If you’re thinking that maybe you’ve seen this movie before, that’s because you have. But if you made it this far, you will keep watching. Usually the reviewer wants to throw in a spoiler at this point to prove his point, but since this is a spoiler free review, the reviewer just casually steers you away from the spoiler. The best reviewers are really nothing more than highly skilled puppeteers, the master of their realm of the written word, pulling the strings to lead you, the movie watcher, to understand that this movie is in fact not like the other movies you have seen. So you have to trust the reviewer. Just let the strings guide you. 

This is the part of the review where the reviewer breaks down what kind of film this is, using specific examples of other films the reviewer may feel are similar examples of the genre. This is a Horror film, so think Horror when reading this part. This is also the reviewer’s way of secretly spoiling the film. Just by mentioning other films, he’s implanting images and triggering memories like some kind of Videodrome in your head. You become aware that yes, there is someone controlling this review, it is not entirely unbiased. Readers often feel threatened at this point. Readers don’t like feeling they are The Player in a controlled eXistenZ, caught in some kind of Arrested Development forcing their own thought Adaptation. What is this, some kind of Fight Club? Reviewers don’t like alienating their readers, so they back off a little, driving home the strong points of the film without making you feel you’re about to watch Family Guy or 30 Rock. If the reviewer didn’t like the movie, they point out the weaknesses here. Fortunately, this film doesn’t have any weaknesses other than the fact you haven’t seen it yet.

The last part of the review is where the reviewer gives it everything they’ve got. With this film, only the truth will work. So, if you go into this film expecting to see werewolves, and zombies, and zombie redneck torture families, and Pinhead, and the dollface killers from The Strangers, and vampire bats, and Pennywise the Clown, then you need to be careful what you wish for. If you’re wanting to watch a smart, deliciously different kind of Horror movie that is just plain ass-kicking fun with an ending that will make you say Wow, you cannot go wrong with The Cabin In The Woods. 

Buy The Cabin In The Woods here.

Splatterpunk Lives! Obscuradrome Reviews Bleed by Ed Kurtz

Coined by David J. Schow many many moons ago, Splatterpunk is by definition a genre of Horror fiction with no boundaries. Characterized by graphic violence and gore, the genre throws suggestion out the window, preferring to grab the reader by the neck and shove their face into the bloody mess as the story unfolds, in minute by minute detail. Personally, I like the stuff, grew up on it, cut my writing teeth on it. Schow remains in my list of all time favorites, which also includes Joe R. Lansdale, Clive Barker, Robert McCammon, and Jack Ketchum–all writers of the Splatterpunk genre at one time or another. The term is an 80’s and 90’s term, and you don’t hear it thrown around too much today unless you run in the circles I keep.

The circles I keep somehow put author Ed Kurtz’s name in my path. His novel Bleed came out earlier this year, and after reading the snyopsis, I knew it was going up to the top of my reading list. Here’s the info from the back cover:

When Walt Blackmore moves into an old gable front house on the outskirts of a small town, things are really looking up for him; he has an adoring girlfriend to whom he plans to propose, a new job teaching English at the local high school, and an altogether bright future. His outlook and destiny are irreparably changed, however, when an unusual dark red spot appears on the ceiling in the hallway. Bit by bit, the spot grows, first into a dripping blood stain and eventually into a grotesque, muttering creature. 
As the creature grows, Walt finds himself more and more interested in fostering its well-being. At first he only feeds it stray animals so that the blood-hungry monster can survive, but this soon fails to satisfy the creature’s ghastly needs. It is gradually becoming human again, and for that to happen it requires human blood and human flesh. And once Walt has crossed the line from curiosity to murder, there is no going back.

Who wouldn’t want to read that? This is Splatterpunk, like Frank Cotton from Hellraiser amped up on steroids, turned up to eleven, one more louder than ten. Ah, but of course, there was a little trepidation. The 80’s and 90’s were in the way back when days, and my reading tastes have changed. This often happens to writers.  As we hone and develop our craft, what used to inspire us years ago changes as we come into our own writing style. We start to write what we want to read as what we want to read changes into what we write. A weird little vicious cycle. So yeah, I was a little nervous reading a book possibly filled with so much blood and gore that it might distract me from the story.

I’m so glad I trusted my guts on this one, pun intended. Splatterpunk works not because of its gratuitous depiction of all the bloody, nasty bits, but in the way it ties an emotional impact to the characters that experience the violence. It’s that ‘ Oh my God, the killer is peeling off Bonnie’s face, with his bare hands, and gulping it down. No, not Bonnie…please not Bonnie‘ feeling when you’re reading the story–you’re grossed out about the events, but cannot put the book down because of what’s happening to a character you care about. It takes real talent to pull that off, that tense moment when you’re on the edge of your seat needing to know what happens next AND ready to hurl your dinner in the wastebasket.

On all counts, Kurtz delivers the goods.

Without spoiling anything, one of the things I really liked about this novel was no character was safe. Through careful pacing and deliberate POV changes, the story unfolds logically, yet gleefully unpredictable. Readers can’t help but to size up characters when they start a story, attempting to gauge who’s a fighter and who’s going to die. I must say I was pleasantly surprised by Kurtz’s ability to make me throw out my character gauge and just enjoy the story.

The story isn’t perfect. One character’s mental deconstruction left me scratching my head a little, but it certainly didn’t force me out of the story, and it’s something I can easily forgive as long as the story keeps me entertained. 

If you’re looking for something reminiscent of the good ole days, the heyday of Horror of the 80’s and 90’s,  it’s still here, lurking on the shelves of a bookstore near you, ready to drop body parts on your head and drip blood down your neck. Splatterpunk isn’t dead, it was just taking a little nap, and Ed Kurtz woke it up, just for you.

Pick up Bleed in paperback here.

Pick up Bleed for your Kindle here.

Obscuradrome Reviews Growing Up Dead In Texas, by Stephen Graham Jones.

Prolific writer Stephen Graham Jones‘  latest novel, Growing Up Dead in Texas arrived in my mailbox about two months ago. I made a promise to review the book, a promise I am fulfilling a little late it seems. I promised to read the book before I read anything else, even if that meant putting down my current book for a while. When the package came in the mail, I ripped it open and started it immediately. A slow reader by nature, I really tried to pay close attention to the details so I would be able to write my review. I wanted to find the heart of the book and open it up, see what made it tick. That’s really all I ever do when I write a review. I find the details and hold on to them, turn them around in my head to see how it all fits into the story. 

I failed with this novel. The details? Hahaha. Yeah, right. The details took my ass for a ride, a glorious ride through West Texas. I wasn’t even halfway through the book when I started to wonder how I was going to write a review without writing GREAT, BRILLIANT, AWESOME, JAW-DROPPING, GREAT, BRILLIANT, AWESOME, etc. over and over again, sounding like some spastic geek stuck in compliment repeater mode.

Set in Texas, I figured as a Texan I would feel right at home reading it. Funny thing is, I’ve never been west of Waco, and Texas is big, huge. Massive. From where I live in Texas, I could drive east for ten hours and cross four states. Drive west for ten hours–yep, you guessed it–still in Texas. My Texas is about as different from Stephen’s Texas as you can get, yet everything felt familiar. This book captures a feeling, and man, that’s hard to do with a whole novel. The feeling should be familiar to anyone who picks up the book, whether they live in Texas, or the South, or where ever. 

It’s the feeling of life. A life that we’ve all lived, a life that all of our children will live. If you ever played basketball in school, thought Evel Knievel was the real deal, pushed Hot Wheels around the floor in your house, listened to old Country & Western tunes in your truck, had a truck, or even if none of this even remotely reminds you of you, Growing Up Dead in Texas will still resonate with that indescribable tickle in the back of your brain that maybe, yes maybe, you’ve been here before. 

There’s a good reason why I haven’t written this review until now. I was afraid to write it. I figured that no matter what I said wouldn’t be able give this book justice. Touted as a mystery and a memoir, this is about as close to Stephen Graham Jones as you’re going to get. Writer’s basically write themselves into their stories; it’s unavoidable and comes with the territory. Stephen leads the reader down the path of memory into the heart of this story, the fire of this story, and it’s a story only he could tell.  

The thing about this book is that I don’t know what really happened and what is made up, and personally, I don’t care. I believe it all, but it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that Stephen was compelled to write this story and share it. You can feel the passion welling up in the words, in Stephen’s voice, as he weaves this tale as only he can. 

I knew there was no way I could do the book justice. After all these words I still don’t think I’ve written a review. All I can hope for is that you pick up this book and experience it like I did. Maybe then and only then you will understand. 

Growing Up Dead in Texas-Paperback.

Growing Up Dead in Texas-Kindle edition.

Booked & Caleb J. Ross, Two Names That Go Great Together.

I’m going to keep this update short and sweet so you can get to your homework assignments.

Those crazy cats at Booked have been reading again.

This time they tackle not one, but two new Caleb J. Ross novels, As A Machine & Parts and I Didn’t Mean To Be Kevin.

 

 

 

See I told you, short and sweet. Click here to listen to the podcast and click the colored links above to BUY CALEB’S BOOKS!