Sunday, 24 July 2011

'MOMMIE DEAREST' OR THE POSSESSION OF FAYE DUNAWAY


 

What to add to this high camp gem that has not been said before… My two cents, of course, but where do I begin? What can I tell you that would completely hook you? That I was an extra on the film? That I know the star personally? Or better yet, that I heard through the rumor mill that a sequel is at the planning stage? Oh, how I wish it was all true, but one thing’s for sure: you’ll end up having a ball reading this post anyway, for if you’re still here, it means you’re as hooked on this film as I am. So sit back, unwind and be prepared to be taken back in time. Here it goes:

 
I actually went to the movie theater to catch MOMMIE DEAREST. I was there when the film opened wide in North America on September 18th, 1981. The same year that my mid-teen angst went into overdrive. You know, when I was so sure I had it all figured out. Suffice to say I knew zilch about life, just as I knew nothing about the film star. Not La Faye; I had seen her before in the wonderful gangster flick BONNIE AND CLYDE and in that other bad but so chic-looking movie THE EYES OF LAURA MARS. I mean the other one, that Joan person. I had never heard of Joan Crawford before. In fact, my friend and I thought she was actually an ice skater queen, on account that MOMMIE DEAREST begins with her getting her skates laced up by some bit player. Of course, it was all for the benefit of a film being shot within a film. It had nothing to do with Olympic legends. Oh, she was a queen all right, but a different kind of a queen, one that I would soon learn could rival any foul-tempered diva on and off screen.
 

You have to understand something here. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. All of that Christina Crawford rant over mom’s lack of maternal skills was unknown to us at the time, as was the book on which the film was based. Call us clueless, but we were just a couple of pimply-faced kids out on a Friday night, nothing more nothing less. The only thing we were sure of, besides being familiar with the film star Dunaway, was that MOMMIE DEAREST had all the right ingredients to be very dark, horror like dark. I mean look at that poster sheet alone. Dunaway in a scary getup looking like the ice queen that she is, and with that torn corner signed pic … It’s enough to hail it as one of the scariest teasers of all time. Sure, it’s hardly FRIDAY THE 13TH with that shadow defined killer roaming a campsite. But, in some ways, it is far worse. To me that poster represented the real deal. The day-to-day sicko who could probably handle anyone, including Pamela Voorhees.


As it turned out, I was right on target. ‘Cause we all know how MOMMIE DEAREST fared. It is one of the most terrifying, unintentionally funny, jaw-droppingly bad but visually stunning piece of work to ever showcase a villain. It literally destroyed Faye Dunaway’s career (though with what’s been rumored about her throughout the years, it’s no wonder). Even after all this time she still refuses to discuss the film, which is really a bummer, for you feel like saying: “Hey Faye, get a grip. Have a sense of humor and embrace the love. It’s just a movie, for crying out loud!” And what about those pivotal moments of violence in the film? How can anyone keep a straight face at all the atrocities going around? So over-the-top they are that you even expect dead Joan to snap open her eyes and jump at Christina’s throat à la EVIL DEAD during that infamous funeral parlor scene.


OK, now that I got everything off my chest, let me just say that my life has never been the same since seeing MOMMIE DEAREST for the first time in ‘81. I don’t know about you guys (nor about my childhood friend, for that matter), but rarely do I forget to watch the film at least once a year. I know, I know, call me crazy, but to me MOMMIE DEAREST is the epitome of horror perfectness. It genuinely makes me want to hide my face behind my hands every time Joan gets irritated. And I would forever be grateful to La Faye if she ever agrees to star in my proposed sequel aptly named MOMMIE DEAREST: THE HIDDEN YEARS. I’d even agree to be touched by her wire hanger just to get the project off the ground (though she’ll probably think I’m too old; or worse, not worthy). In the meantime get yourself the Hollywood Royalty Edition of MOMMIE DEAREST on DVD and enjoy the film and the John Waters commentary.







 Until next post—Martin




 
 
 
 
 

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

'ORIGINAL SIN' BY TASMINA PERRY



 

ORIGINAL SIN being my first Tasmina Perry, I was pretty thrilled to finally plunge my heart and soul into this 600 plus page book. I had heard a lot of good things about this author, queen of the bonkbuster genre, brilliant writer… So imagine my excitement coming face to face with this tale of a renowned publicist who has her hands full protecting the shenanigans of a well-to-do family on the verge of a fab and tabloid-driven wedding. Two words to that: sleazy heaven. Indeed, all the elements for a great trashy read are there, a controlling matriarch, a sex-addict daughter, a substance abusive son, a disillusioned bride, and a big big secret that threatens to reveal itself. I mean, what more could I ask for, right? Well, as it turned out, a lot.

First and foremost let me say that I have yet to throw in the towel when Miss Perry is concerned. Her ORIGINAL SIN may have landed below my appreciation radar but I will definitely overlook it. Why? Simple. This writer has spunk. Lots of it. And contrary to TV’s Lou Grant, I love spunk. You can feel it in her words, her sentences, her style… She definitely got the chomps to impress. Trouble is she sometimes misses the boat. Take the character of Tess, for example. She may be an ace at her publicist job but, boy, what a dummy she is at love. It’s hard to feel any real sympathy for her when all she does his blindly tumble over her heartstrings. No, we do not want her perfect, we just want her as shrewd in her love life as she is at her job. It isn’t too much to ask. It’s what is expected.

For all the wrong approach regarding the character of Tess, the one worth mentioning, however, is Brooke, the bride-to-be. The author does a fine job leveling her sense of intelligence. This heroine has flaws but she is not stupid in her actions. We believe she would have second thoughts about her upcoming nuptials and understand her attraction to another man. We do not hate her for it; we embrace her imperfection instead.

Of course, getting into the scheme of things sometimes involves unwanted direction for the reader. In ORIGINAL SIN Perry chooses to elongate her plot and subplots to the point of boredom. A shame actually, for the first 150 pages of her book is almost done to perfection with a sure tempo and a yummy dialogue. But comes the first-half and, suddenly, I find myself loosing interest, due mostly to the characters uninspired ways. I should be having a ball up to that point, not dreading what comes next. But fortunately, the novel last third picks up and saves it from becoming just another snoozer.

There is a fine line between great and super great bonkbuster authors. Jackie Collins, J. J. Salem, Tilly Bagshawe, Jessica Ruston have all caught the nuance. That is why their work flourish while others take a turn for the recycle bin. I am far from saying that Tasmina Perry isn’t one of the super greats. But, judging by her ORIGINAL SIN, it’s truly evident that something is missing. Whether it’s a lack of connection with a male reader or a simple slip from a frothy agenda, we will never know. But one thing’s for sure: her world of sin and caviar still can generate a good buzz despite this lukewarm review. I mean, just look where she is today. Her name is on everyone’s lips. She may have yet to reach mine but she is getting there. All I need is one super great read to seal the deal.



 

Until next post—Martin
 



Sunday, 17 July 2011

'BEYOND THE SHROUD' BY RICK HAUTALA






BEYOND THE SHROUD by the legendary Rick Hautala—you  know, the other Maine prolific author whose scary tales during the ‘80s horror boom and beyond have gathered a faithful following—is definitely worth the time spent. His protagonist is a dead man. Literally. There is no surprise revelation here, since the novel makes you understand the whole situation right from the start. Caught between two worlds, what the author calls the Shadowlands, he meets all kind of strange creatures, one of which is his already deceased daughter (of a skiing accident) who may or may not be who she says she is. At the same time on planet earth mourns his ex-wife (and mother of the deceased child in question) who’s involved herself with a lunatic Brad Pitt type who digs knives. Anyway, to make a long story short, big screen GHOST this ain’t (trust me), but it sure makes you want to think it is at first glance.

  
Just like the film, Hautala plays with the ethereal and the real world shtick quite convincingly, mixing both in great doze to create a super-charged tale beyond the grave for the quiet horror in you. Because let’s not mince words, BEYOND THE SHROUD is scarcely a no holds barred type of a novel that will make you cringe on the edge of your seat. It will make you cringe all right but in a more subtle way, as mood supersedes any action sequences. Scenes of gloomy atmosphere fill the pages, as well as an impressive rich narrative. But what I remember most about this book is the way Hautala narrates his tale sparingly, taking his time to develop characterization and sceneries up to a point where the reader feels as uncomfortable with dread emanating from the words than from the story itself. And to me that is horror.


Mind you, the plot does tend to verge on predictability, but the overall intake is of pure beauty. I have read a few Hautala titles in my time, and none have disappointed me. Which is a treat, really, when considering the many horror authors one can choose from. My favorite of his still has got to be WINTER WAKE and I urge any publishers to re-release it as an e-book. It is as perfect as… well… an evil-looking winter wonderland. BEYOND THE SHROUD may not reach that same perfection plateau, but it sure deserves the same fate. In an era of blood-drenched narrative, subtlety is more than welcome in horror novels. Well, at least it is in this camp.


UPDATE:  Well, it looks like the news just passed me by, for it seems that WINTER WAKE and a few other titles like LITTLE BROTHERS and NIGHTSTONE are already—or soon will be—published in digital form.  Go check them out. 





Until next post—Martin


Sunday, 10 July 2011

WHAT THE HECK HAPPENED, ELIZABETH GAGE?!



 

I first met author Elizabeth Gage during my mid-20s, as I was rummaging through a bin full of used books down at The Salvation Army. Not a glamorous picture, is it? But rest assured, I was only there on a mission to find the latest gem. You know, the discard book sought-after by those paperback hunters like moi. As it happens, I was not looking for something in particular that day, having gone through the many aisles offering anything from fiction to travel guide books to magazines on such-and-such. But I must admit that one cover displaying a woman shapely leg brushing against a man inner section kept beckoning me. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention that I had graduated from horror to trashy books by then, having enjoyed many by the likes of Collins, Susann, Robbins… The more scandalous they were the happier I got. And lengthy, I liked them all lengthy; over 500 pages at least. So imagine how thrilled I felt finding out that this one entitled A GLIMPSE OF STOCKING was about 700 pages. Sheer ecstasy, I’m telling you, sheer ecstasy.


Like a lot of you, I new little of Elizabeth Gage besides the small bio and pic (most certainly fake; read on) at the end of the novel which claimed that she had homes in Illinois and Hawaii and that her name was a pseudonym “for a major new storytelling talent”. Still, this snippet intrigued me. Even more so when I found myself enthralled by the novel storytelling way of conjuring up trouble in Hollywood and beyond. I was determined right then and there to know more about this secretive Miss Gage. But computers were not as hip nor as yet affordable back then (that would be around… hmm, let me check the paperback copyright page… the end of the ‘80s). So people had to do their search the old fashion way, via libraries, bookstores, magazine articles, or by writing a fan letter to the author (which, in hindsight I should have done, just for the kick of owning something from this now MIA storyteller). Suffice to say, I ended up with zilch concerning this author. But I was not through with her yet.


Fast forward to some 20 years later on an evening like this one, when heat and sounds of the night invade my opened window, and wouldn’t you know, all those questions about this mysterious writer are finally answered... well, almost. According to this (scroll down to "Underground" August 17, 2010), it seems that Elizabeth Gage had it pretty rough with Simon & Schuster, her then-publishers. No one over there truly believed in her book, even though it did become a New York Times best-seller later on. She’s supposedly from Glenview, Illinois and did (still does?) have a home in Hawaii. There may have been a team of two authors behind the Gage name, a man and a woman. The post by Doreen Appleton (thanks, Doreen!) hints to that but does not elaborate. But what it makes clear is this: Simon & Schuster did harm the Gage name. Enough so that sales of her four subsequent books suffered, despite the fact that all were as riveting as A GLIMPSE OF STOCKING—believe me. If you have yet to try a Gage, start with her first aforementioned novel, then go on from there. No need to thank me later. As to what happened to the author after her Simon & Schuster debacle? Well, she moved on to Mira who published two final novels, one in 1998, the other a year later. After that, I have no idea of her whereabouts. But one thing’s for sure, seeing a new Gage on bookstands would certainly make my day, especially with the current revival of the eighties-style bonkbusters. A guy can dream, right?


 
UPDATE: According yet again to Doreen Appleton, Gage is now “a literary novelist whose real identity is not known”. The author supposedly has won publishing awards for her many novels under pseudonyms. Well, good for her, I say. But what about the Elizabeth Gage name? Isn’t it time to dig her out of the publishing grave?


 

Until next post—Martin





Sunday, 3 July 2011

IT’S ALL OWEN WEST’S FAULT




In the fall of 1980 I hooked up with a guy who would change the course of my life for the better. His name was Owen West. Now, if you think this post is about to take a turn into smutville, think again. Because Owen West is an author who, thanks to his knack for effective writing, awakened my sense of reading in English. Yeah, you’ve read right. If it hadn’t been for him, I may have never stepped as freely into the horror genre, as it was becoming very hip back then with the upswing of both films and print. Indeed, ever since the success of THE OMEN and HALLOWEEN, people were into horror like you wouldn’t believe. So, naturally, in came scads of horror paperback originals that included novelization of upcoming films, like 1981 THE FUNHOUSE onto which this Owen West fellow had based his first novel.


As you can imagine, I was already considered a horror buff back then, having seen as many films as I could, TOURIST TRAP, SILENT SCREAM, the John Carpenter classic, a lot of Hammer flicks… All were part of my yearly big or small screen routine. It took the arrival of super great FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 a year or so later to really cement my love for the genre, but, yeah, even by that time I was in the zone. So to me, reading horror was the next logical step. Easier said than done, believe me. Let me explain. Being a French Canadian teen with a limited knowledge of the English words made things a little difficult. Moreover, as we didn’t have many horror books in French (or so I thought) and the ones I fancied were all in English, I felt even more stuck as a reader. That is, until I decided to give it a go anyway and pick up an English novel with a cool cover at the five and dime store. The one I chose had lurid eyes that said open if you dare, so I did.
 
 
It did take me a long while to get through this fine and spooky tale of carnival people and the visitors who fell prey to them but I eventually made it through, with an English/French dictionary in tow. Sure, I didn’t understand most of it but I still managed to get an inkling of what the plot and dialogue were about, and to me that was more than enough. Besides, just knowing that I could continue delving into English modern horror fiction was the best sentiment ever. I felt protected. Understood. Being an unpopular kid at the time, this knowledge made me feel less alone, made life a little better.
 
 
It took a year before another Owen West novel hit the stand. By that time I was already a real pro with the English tongue. Oh, many other books have followed THE FUNHOUSE, but never have I been more proud of myself than that faithful day. I’m sure I won’t surprise anyone when I reveal that Owen West is really Dean Koontz. Being prolific, he used many pseudonyms during that period of time. And though I have dipped into Koontz’s world often enough, it is Owen West to whom I must dedicate this blog entry, for without him and his scary words I may never have had the guts to step outside of the French box, and in return would never have started this blog some 30 years later. So thanks a million, Owen. I definitely owe you one.
 
 
 
 
 
Until next post—Martin
 
US paperback