Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Sound of Horror

This review is from an earlier blog, but worth a revisit, as this little jewel may be on the menu in the next few days...

Back in the early 70s, I remember watching on TV a 1964 Spanish monster flick called The Sound of Horror and thinking it just might be the worst piece of crap ever put to film. kind of left me feeling unnerved. A while back, I picked up the Alpha Video DVD for something like $3.99, watched it, and came out thinking exactly the same thing.

It's about an invisible dinosaur. I am not lying; it's true. The budget was so small, they made the dinosaur invisible. But you know what? It makes a hell of a scary noise. It shreds people in right gory fashion. And like some of the best SF/horror movies — The Thing and Alien coming foremost to mind it features characters confined in a location from which they cannot escape. As a bonus, it stars a young Ingrid Pitt and Soledad Miranda (Lucy in Jess Franco's Count Dracula), who, in her day, was about the hottest thing on two legs. The moviemakers realized this and even stopped the film in its faltering tracks so that Pitt and Miranda could dance for the camera. No complaints from me.

Make no mistake, it's a dumb, dumb film, but, in its way, it's also a bit brilliant. A group of former Nazi fighters, along with the aforementioned beautiful women, meet at a remote location in Greece to seek treasure that was buried in a cave before the war. In the process of digging it up, they unearth both a remarkably preserved mummy (identified first as a "homo sapien neanderthal" and then as a fighter at the sacking of Troy) and a couple of very large, petrified eggs. The mummy stays dead, but the eggs hatch. One releases said invisible carnivorous dinosaur; the other provides us with a glimpse of a pair of creepy, glowing eyes, but their owner is bashed and burned before it can camouflage itself and join in the blood feast. Several of the treasure-hunting party are killed as the invisible horror continually attacks the house where they are trapped, until they finally figure out a way to best the noisy, unseen brute.

From scene to scene, the movie yo-yos from outright inept to chillingly atmospheric. The creature's murderous raids are surprisingly — and realistically— graphic. There's a rather poignant scene in which the household caretaker, a superstitious woman named Calliope (whose forecasts of doom are quickly borne out) is brutally savaged by the monster, and the others trapped in the house watch helplessly...almost casually. In reality, it was probably just a matter of lackadaisical direction, yet the scene comes across as depressingly authentic.

Overall, the characters are not terribly heroic, though the WWII veterans in the group evidently once fought with great honor. Their motivation is greed, yet they are played as mostly sympathetic and humane individuals. I can just imagine this movie being remade today, with every one of these folk portrayed as vile scum, each of whom deserves to die, and the sooner the better. I find it refreshing to be able to care about, and to some degree identify with, a group of not-quite-perfect people, depicted far more realistically than the despicable stereotypes that populate far too many of today's horrific features. For one thing, there's no annoying conflict-for-conflict's-sake between a bunch of foul-mouthed imbeciles, which is the main reason I so often want to strangle every character in most modern horror films, particularly when the protagonists are youthful.

Of course, the characters do some pretty dumb things, but by and large, they're smarter than most of their modern monster movie counterparts. The final scene, though, brings us to a mishmosh of cluelessness, heroism, and a display of one of the worst monster effects ever shown on the screen. It's the film's quintessential moment, where brilliance and ineptitude collide and create something like a cinematic black hole.

If you haven't seen The Sound of Horror... well, you just gotta. You can still pick it up on for cheap.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Surfside Sojourn


Back from spending a couple of relaxing days with some good friends in Surfside Beach, SC. There was geocaching, of course; other fun and games, my favorite being the ever-popular cornhole; numerous refreshing walks on the beach; excellent food and drink; and some reasonably painful sunburn. In fact, both Ms. Brugger and I came home with unique patterns imprinted on our skin due to uneven applications of sunscreen (I blame the lady). Sunday was our friend Doug's birthday, so we even had cake. The forecast for the weekend had looked anything but promising, but just to reinforce the idea that meteorologists are overpaid carnival fortunetellers, the weather turned out damn near perfect — mostly warm and sunny, with a few clouds and an almost constant light breeze. We did get rain for a spell late on Sunday afternoon, but it was while we were all inside anyway, so we barely noticed. On the way home, after picking up a geocache, I got pulled over by a South Carolina state trooper, as I had apparently rolled through a stop sign on my return to the main highway, but he was kind enough to give me a warning rather than a ticket. I'm sure you're thinking I have done far worse things, and you might be right, but we will not discuss those.

Heading down on Saturday morning, Ms. B. and I stopped for geocaches at a couple of fascinating locations. The first was "Great Falls Mill" (GC1RJ8P) in Rockingham, NC, which took us to the crumbling remains of a cotton mill built in 1869 atop the foundation of an earlier mill burned by General Sherman during the Civil War. The Great Falls Mill closed during the Great Depression and then burned in 1972. The structure has been steadily crumbling over the years and, for safety's sake, is best viewed from a distance. Photos taken just two years ago show considerably more of the structure intact.

My other big favorite was "Blenheim Mineral Springs" (GC20DQ9) in Blenheim, SC, the site of natural mineral springs from which Blenheim Ginger Ale is made. The springs were discovered in 1781 by James Spears, a Whig, who was attempting to elude Tory troops. As legend has it, Mr. Spears lost his shoe in a water hole. When he attempted to recover it, he sampled the water and discovered its potent mineral contents (and presumably the distinct bouquet of shoe leather). News of the spring circulated around the countryside and, before long, it became the center of a bustling hub of commerce. In the late 1800s, Dr. C. R. May counseled his patients with stomach troubles to drink the spring water, but his patients complained about the its iron-like taste. To make the water's flavor more appealing, Dr. May began supplementing it with Jamaican Ginger — and thus was born Blenheim Ginger Ale. In 1903, Dr. May and A. J. Matheson founded the Blenheim Bottling Company, and the remains of the old bottling works can be found near the spring, from which you can still drink. Ms. B. and I explored the site for some time and sampled the spring water, which did taste not unlike rust from an old iron pipe. I'm sure it was very healthy for me.

Just before arriving in Surfside, we stopped at a cache that's up in a tree, which I had to climb after. And that is how you top off an enjoyable road trip. I did manage a little caching around the beach area — and had a bit of a fright when I thought my phone had gone missing. After coming to the conclusion that someone must have stolen it, since at one point I had foolishly left it unattended in the unlocked car, I discovered it in my back pocket.

Apart from a nasty traffic jam on our egress from the beach that took over an hour to get through, things went pretty smoothly. Was notified of an issue with my mom that may take some sorting out, but that is a bridge to burn on another day.
The remains of Great Falls Mill
Ms. B. among the ruins of the old bottling works at Blenheim Mineral Springs
Inside the ruins
The view from "Fiddlin' in the Marsh" (GC491MA). Dammit, I forgot my fiddle.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Monster Museum

One of my most genuine pleasures is finding a copy of some old book that frightened, inspired, or otherwise made memories in my youth. I grew up an avid reader, and I'm sure you'd be stunned to learn that my favorite books were the scary ones. One of the most influential — an anthology I found myself consciously thinking about when concocting my earliest works of fiction — was Alfred Hitchcock's Monster Museum, which I discovered at my school library when I was in sixth or seventh grade. I hadn't seen a copy of this old classic in more years than I could remember, but I recently acquired one in decent condition, and I was so excited to receive it I put all else aside so I could delve into its pages. The volume boasts "Twelve shuddery stories for daring young readers," and to be sure, as a youngster I shuddered at several of them, but a number of pivotal horror/dark fantasy tales for all ages can be found herein — such as "The Day of the Dragon" by Guy Endore; "Slime" by Joseph Payne Brennan; "The Microscopic Giants" by Paul Ernst; "Shadow, Shadow on the Wall" by Theodore Sturgeon; "The Desrick on Yandro" by Manly Wade Wellman (which I referenced in some detail in my recent entry about The Legend of Hillbilly John); and "Homecoming" by Ray Bradbury.

Although Alfred Hitchcock's name adorns the cover of this, and numerous other volumes of terror tales — he merely licensed his name to be used on various book projects — Monster Museum was actually edited by mystery and speculative fiction author Robert Arthur. The selection of stories runs the gamut from grim and suspenseful ("Day of the Dragon," in which genetic experiments on alligators produce huge, winged dragons straight out of legend; "Slime," a story about a ravenous, flesh-eating horror from the depths of the sea; "The Microscopic Giants," about tiny, subterranean humanoids whose composition is so dense they can walk through stone) to whimsical ("Henry Martindale, Great Dane" by Miriam Allen deFord, in which a writer, in Kafka-esque fashion, physically becomes a great dane while retaining his human personality as well as power of speech; "The Wheelbarrow Boy" by Richard Parker, about a teacher who can turn unruly children into any object of his choosing; "The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles" by Idris Seabright, a futuristic tale about a traveling salesman's ultimate nightmare). My youthful favorites, of course, were the darker ones — and they still are — but upon re-reading these recently, I found myself unexpectedly taken with some of the more humorous ones, particularly "Henry Martindale, Great Dane," which also manages a certain poignancy. And upon finishing "The Wheelbarrow Boy," which I was reading in bed just before conking out for the night, I fear I startled the cats by unleashing a barrage of laughter. Yes, this resulted in long, withering stares of consternation from which I have scarcely recovered.

Having have read these stories during my formative years, I suppose it's no wonder they have lingered, in some cases like half-remembered, eerie melodies, haunting but vague, influencing in subtle, if at all identifiable ways. But upon re-reading them, most for the first time since I was a youngster, the memories came flooding back, in many cases with crystal clarity, transporting me to a time when reading was truly exciting, oftentimes as much as or more so than watching the most spectacular monster epics on television or at the theater. Most of the stories in Alfred Hitchcock's Monster Museum are vivid and full of imagery, perfect for bringing life to the movie screen inside any adolescent's mind. Or even an adult's.

And now my batteries are recharged and set to get me moving on a new story for an upcoming anthology. Sometimes a pleasant return to your roots can do that for you.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Rum Collins

I suppose it's the most intense writing experience I've ever had. It was Autumn 1998, and I was working on Dreams of the Dark, which I co-wrote with Elizabeth Massie for the HarperCollins Dark Shadows series. Dark Shadows was, for me, a magical property, one I grew up with, dreamed about, plotted new episodes in my spare time. I knew the original television series, the movies, the Marilyn Ross novels inside and out. I was the consummate Dark Shadows fanboy. I had decided way back when, and I've said it many times since, that in a perfect universe, if I lived a good and worthy life, after I died I would go to Collinwood.

Ms. Massie and I had intricately plotted the novel, had virtually all the details worked out, and had divvied up the chapters for which we would each be responsible. I had developed a new character, a vampire, named Thomas Rathburn who would insinuate himself into Collinwood and thereby become the reader's eyes and ears as events at the great estate unfolded. It was via Rathburn that the reader would meet the Collins family — most notably, Barnabas Collins.

It was a Friday afternoon when I started working on the scene where Rathburn was to meet Barnabas for the first time, and I found myself as excited as if I were there, at Collinwood, about to come face to face with the characters I had known so intimately for so many years. I had armed myself with some rum, but as I began to paint the scene, I felt giddy, intoxicated, far in excess of the effect of any alcohol. It was the first time — perhaps the only time, really — that the process of writing transported me wholly into the world in which I was working. It was a world I knew better than any I could create from my own mind. In those moments, Collinsport, Maine, the place and its people, was as real, as corporeal, as the most familiar corner of my own hometown. I could see Barnabas Collins with perfect clarity, hear every word he spoke — in Jonathan Frid's inimitable, mellifluous voice — as if he were standing before me, performing for me only.

I wrote and drank for several hours, and sometime around midnight my (now ex-) wife reminded me that I'd had no dinner. I took a brief break for some vittles, recharged my glass (again), probably took a pee, and settled back in to continue the scene. It was all coming out like lightning, as natural, as real as if I were merely transcribing events happening in the tangible world around me. At some point, Mrs. Death went to bed, while I kept writing and drinking.

Eventually, I realized the sun was coming up.

I was beginning to feel the effects of the night's alcohol, so I made coffee, took a few minutes' breather, and went back to writing. And by noon, the rum was flowing again.

I finished that chapter sometime after sundown and finally, at some point, collapsed, pretty well enervated. I think I napped for a couple of hours before getting back to it, this time sans rum. Well, at least for the next few hours. By Sunday afternoon, I was writing and rumming again as if all that previous rumming had never happened.

When I look back at Dreams of the Dark, that chapter specifically, I can happily say it is not the work of an excited drunk. It's the work of an enthusiastic spirit who, for just a little while, visited the place of his dreams. I'd say there aren't any other media properties that could have done that for me, not then, not ever. I'm mighty glad I had the chance to work in that universe, not once but several times, because it opened a door for me — inside me — that few, if any, of my own unique creations have ever done. No right or wrong about it. It just was.

Fortunately for me, in the days since then, I have managed to write just as enthusiastically (if for much shorter spells) but without quite so much drink. I'm pretty sure I would never — could never — even attempt to repeat or recapture that experience. That was a singular, isolated time where passion and spirits overcame everything else. It's a fine thing to remember. I'm glad I can remember. For a while there, it was iffy.

Write on.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Time Keeps on Slippin'...

Yeah, this past week was my birthday, and this coming week is Ms. Kimberly's birthday. I just had my previous birthday a few days before, so I really can't figure what's up with that. But since these things somehow keep coming around again, we figured we'd make the best of them and do a bunch of celebratory stuff. Most of my birthday festivities went on last weekend, but on Friday night, I got a little bonus celebration going caching around Greensboro with my old friend Beth "Bogturtle" Walton and Debbie "Cupdaisy" Shoffner. It had been at least two or three years since I'd seen Beth, who lives in Florida these days, so it was great catching up, signing logs, and making a stop at one of our local cache bars afterward.

Yesterday, Ms. B. and I headed to Chapel Hill to hit a few of our preferred destinations for shopping and entertainment (and for me to find a few geocaches). We took the scenic route through Hillsborough to have lunch at Hillsborough BBQ Company (in my experience, their beef brisket is second only to Blues BBQ Company's in Roanoke); then, after going walkies around Chapel Hill and grabbing a handful of caches, we each suffered through a glass of delicious wine at the Weathervane bar at A Southern Season; we checked out West End Wine Bar in downtown Chapel Hill, of which we both approved mightily; and finally, we had dinner at Thai Palace, where the fare has been consistently excellent for us. Once back at Ms. B.'s, we watched Cold Mountain, which I had never seen, and, in general, I quite liked it. A bit overlong, but for the most part engaging.

After gorging myself on way too much, way-too-delicious food yesterday, I ended up not eating much of anything today — go figure — and getting in enough exercise to burn off at least the cole slaw from Hillsborough and all but wipe me out for the evening. I spent the better part of the day on the trails at Bryan Park North, hiding a new series of caches inspired by The Walking Dead, and things couldn't have worked out much better. I discovered a few prime locations in the woods, put in several miles of strenuous hiking (plus a bit of running when it looked like rain was going to set in), and undertook a physically taxing and moderately perilous tree climb. There are four caches in the series, which I call "Terminus," after the storyline in TV series, and I think I'm pleased with the results. Those who hunt and find the hides will be the final arbiter of their quality. They should publish in the next day or two.

And for this coming week, it's back to the salt mines.
Searched long and hard and couldn't find that cache.
Enjoyed running into a few local young geocachers in Chapel Hill
One of the intriguing fixtures I discovered in the woods while setting up "Terminus."
Near the final location of "Terminus." A scary cache!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Wine, Witches, and Watery Awakenings

As is customary, yesterday's Spring Book Festival at Brewed Awakening in Danville, VA, opened in the great outdoors, with a quite a few authors in attendance, but by the end of the first hour, gathering clouds had begun to ooze a pervasive mist, which eventually turned to rain, and in the interest of preserving our wares, most of us moved quickly inside. Fortunately, the shop, which is half café, half bookstore, is large enough that it accommodated both authors and customers without undue discomfort. The weather definitely had a negative impact on attendance and sales, but at the end of the day, it still proved profitable, and both Kimberly and I quite enjoyed the event. Brewed Awakenings, owned by John and Bonnie Helms-Hale of Martinsville, VA, occupies the lower floor of one of the historic buildings in Danville's newly renovated warehouse district and, in addition to a respectable stock of literature, offers a wide variety of coffee, tea, sandwiches, and other deli items.

Ms. B. and I had gone to Martinsville on Friday, where we spent a pleasant evening at Mum's in the company of some decent wine. It turned out to be a beautiful night for sitting under the stars on the back deck, with tiki torches burning. I might mention that Martinsville is known for its population of sizable arthropods, and we met a couple of them this weekened — a great big june bug, which dropped in unannounced for a personal wine tasting (fortunately, Kimberly's glass, not mine), and a dragonfly of prehistoric proportions that we discovered hanging on her bedroom window. And after the book festival yesterday, we decided to check out 2 Witches Winery and Brewing Company in Danville, where we each enjoyed a glass of Cabernet Franc on their expansive covered porch, sheltered from the rain. Currently, 2 Witches offers only a handful of wines, mostly still young, but a large selection of craft beers, which we didn't try on this visit, but which I imagine I could be convinced at something less than gunpoint to sample on a future trip.

And since my 5,700th birthday is coming up on Monday, Kimberly treated me to a nice celebratory dinner at The Golden Leaf Bistro, which we have enjoyed on several previous visits. And though I have long since cleared the list of geocaches in Danville, a particularly daunting cache awaited me on the way back to Greensboro. After a couple of fruitless attempts to find the mean little bastard during this past week, this time I managed to lay claim to it. Some caches require you to think outside the box; this one, not so much.

Happy bleepin' birthday to me.
Still life with wine and tiki torches at Mum's
Prehistoric beast on the bedroom window at Mum's place. That sucker is every bit of five inches long.
Some geocaches require you to think outside the box. Others, not so much.