Horror Drive-In: Seems Like Old Times

 

I readily admit that I spend much of my horror ruminations on days gone by. Many consider the 1980s to be the Golden Age of Horror. It was an unparalleled time of creativity and fun in the genre. Horror fiction was going crazy, with many old masters still crafting great stories, and brash newcomers were shaking the foundations of traditional horror storytelling.

And the movies. So-called serious fans bemoaned the many sequels and horror comedies that flourished, but I loved almost all of them.

I never forsook my horror obsession, but it’s hard to maintain enthusiasm and a fresh outlook after decades of indulgence in this stuff.

Lately, however, I’ve felt some of the old magic. Things are going ridiculously well in my personal life, and that helps. And there are other specific elements that have brought out the boyish excitement back to my life.

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Grady Hendrix’s We Sold Our Souls is the closest thing to a real Splatterpunk novel I’ve read in years. Of course we all know that the name, Splatterpunk, was mostly a joke, but there is validity to the era’s importance in the history of the field.

Splatterpunk wasn’t merely excessive violence. There was as much heart as there were guts in the works of John Skipp, Craig Spector, and David J. Schow. These guys never shied away from extreme situations and descriptions in their fiction, but it was more about attitude than vivisection.

We Sold Our Souls may not be a great novel, but it is almost unbelievably clever. The novel pulses with dark humor and outrageous scenarios, but in the end it’s surprisingly moving. Well, probably not so surprising to those who’ve read Hendrix’s previous novel, My Best Friend’s Exorcism.

I raced through We Sold Our Souls in near-record time, and I’m not even a Metal fan. Balancing humor, horror, and authentic emotion is a tricky prospect, but Grady Hendrix pulled it off magnificently. Again.

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When fans talk about the legendary directors of modern horror, names like Carpenter, Cronenberg, Craven, Hooper, Raimi, Romero come up immediately. I think that sometimes Don Coscarelli gets unfairly forgotten. It’s a pity, because Phantasm is easily one of the genuine masterpieces of the genre. Much has been written about the man and his movies, most notably in the Phantasm Exhumed books, but now Coscarelli gives his own perspective and tells his tale in his recently published memoir, True Indie.

True Indie is another book I raced through, and Coscarelli comes across as an exceedingly good guy, with boundless energy and enthusiasm for his movie projects. Unlike most of the other Big Names, Coscarelli never really made the big time with a big budget and a major studio project. And despite the pratfalls that befell him along the way, maybe that has been for the best. Most of the other names I dropped did their best work with humble casts, crews, and budgets.

I saw Phantasm in the late seventies, but I revisited it on videocassette time and time again in the eighties. Then there was Phantasm 2, which was easily the best sequel, and arguably a better picture than the original. This is undoubtedly due to the biggest budget Coscarelli ever had for a Phantasm production.

I also loved a cool little 1988 action picture Coscarelli made called Survival Quest.

Don Coscarelli’s wit, charm, and determination are inspiring, and I recommend True Indie to all horror fans, and to anyone with any interest whatsoever in independent film.

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While browsing in the horror section of a comic store I frequented in the eighties, I found a magazine called Deep Red. It was spearheaded by one Chas Balun, whose name was very familiar to me from Fangoria and Gorezone magazines. Deep Red was harder-edged than those magazines, and Balun and his team were uncompromising in their passion and dedication for no-holds barred horror cinema. Sure, they loved the classics, but these guys championed hardcore gory movies, with Italian productions at the forefront of the coverage.

I was immediately consumed by Deep Red, and I bought every issue before its unfortunate demise. I had, and I maintain, absolute respect for the Deep Red Splat Pack, even while I didn’t always agree with them. Heck, I liked some things they railed against, like Texas Chain Saw Massacre Part 2. I even kind of liked Return of the Living Dead 2.

Chas Balun tragically succumbed to cancer in late 2009, but he never once wavered in his heroic efforts to celebrate superior horror film.

Balun’s passing left a hole in genre journalism that can never be filled, but some able individuals have done their best to keep his spirit alive. Deep Red has been resurrected by Balun’s old publisher Fantaco. The old Splat Pack members have reunited for the task, with new talent jumping onboard as well.

Nothing can replace the Deep Red of olde, but these guys have managed to maintain the spirit that Chas Balun instilled in his publishing efforts. Reading the new Deep Red is like climbing into a time machine and reliving those bloody good old days. Nice work, gentlemen. You keep making them and I’ll keep buying ’em.

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Of course you know that Fangoria is back. I was such a wide-eyed fan back in the Tony Timpone days. The first issue I bought was in August 1986. It had Maximum Overdrive on the cover, and I was enraptured. I had, of course, seen the magazine around before, but I rarely had the extra money to buy it in those lean days. After that I never missed an issue. Well…

I tired of Fangoria as the years went by. I found that their coverage wasn’t in line with my own interests in the field, and I could find all the information I could take on the internet.

Then Fangoria folded under unhappy circumstances, and it left a lot of animosity in its wake.

Happily, a new group announced a rebirth of horror’s number one magazine, and apparently all efforts have been made to honor old debts and commitments. I signed up for a subscription the very day they went up for sale.

My copy arrived this week, and I am quite happy with it. The new Fango achieves a nice balance of nostalgia and contemporary coverage. Honoring the old and embracing the new. Can’t ask any more than that, can  we?

When I heard that Fangoria was coming back, I wrote and offered my services in horror fiction coverage. I figured that my ten-year association with Cemetery Dance would be a natural fit. Unfortunately they felt otherwise, but they at least sent me a polite thanks-but-no-thanks reply.

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You’d have to have lived in a crypt to be unaware that a new Halloween movie is on the horizon. This one will negate all previous sequels and remakes (thank God for the latter). While I liked Halloween II very much, and I love Season of the Witch, I think this is a shrewd choice. It all became way too convoluted and I don’t really care for any of the other sequels. The only one I truly hate (other than the Zombieweens) is Halloween: Resurrection. I found the rest to be serviceable, but rather bland.

Director David Gordon Green has made some really good movies, such as his devastating adaptation of Stewart O’Nan’s Snow Angels. I have high hopes for this new iteration of Halloween, and it will be so good to see Jamie Lee Curtis back as Laurie. My wife and I are even planning an overnight trip so we can see it at a drive-in. I honestly do not believe I have been more excited about a movie release since the delicious expectation for Evil Dead 2.

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So, yeah, I’m feeling pretty good about horror right now. There are plenty of good books coming out at all times, and some of the movies and TV productions are downright fantastic.

Celebrating the past while embracing the present, all the while paving the way for a bright and bloody future for the genre. I guess things aren’t so bad after all.

Mark Sieber learned to love horror with Universal, Hammer, and AIP movies, a Scholastic edition of Poe’s Eight Tales of TerrorSir Graves Ghastly PresentsThe Twilight Zone, Shirley Jackson’s The Daemon LoverThe Night Stalker, and a hundred other dark influences. He came into his own in the great horror boom of the 1980’s, reading Charles L. Grant, F. Paul Wilson, Ray Russell, Skipp and Spector, David J. Schow, Stephen King, and countless others. Meanwhile he spent as many hours as possible at drive-in theaters, watching slasher sequels, horror comedies, monster movies, and every other imaginable type of exploitation movie. When the VHS revolution hit, he discovered the joys of Italian and other international horror gems. Trends come and go, but he still enjoys having the living crap scared out of him. He can be reached at horrordrivein@yandex.com, and at www.horrordrive-in.com.

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