3 Hot New Books on Movies

Fresh from editing last summer’s Klaus Kinski: Beast of Cinema book, Matthew Edwards follows up with another winner in McFarland & Company’s Twisted Visions: Interviews With Cult Horror Filmmakers. Just shy of two dozen directors sit for probing, lengthy Q&As; none are household names, unless your household is adorned with Nekromantik merch. (And if that’s the case, I politely decline your invitation for a sleepover.) Among the highlights: Alfred Sole reveals one of his actresses tried to kill herself during the Alice Sweet Alice shoot; Don’t Go in the House’s Joseph Ellison recalls facing the loaded rifle of the owner of the house they shot at; Rodrigo Gudiño traces his path from founder of Rue Morgue magazine to full-fledged filmmaker; and, in arguably the most interesting chapter, Jack Sholder spills the details about what an asshole Michael Nouri was throughout the making of The Hidden. Edwards is a strong interviewer, posing questions that have genuine thought behind them, which shows in the subjects’ passionate, candid responses.

In a summer when the overdue Wonder Woman has reigned supreme, one wonders if Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise didn’t give the Amazon princess a boost to smash the multiplex’s glass ceiling. In commemoration of the 1991 Oscar winner, Becky Aikman chronicles every step in its making — and subsequent leaps of influence — in Off the Cliff: How the Making of Thelma & Louise Drove Hollywood to the Edge. I only wish the Penguin Press release were at least half as compelling as the film it commemorates. While Aikman is a fine writer, initial chapters focusing on screenwriter Callie Khouri alone tend to overstate the stakes or create drama when there appears to be none, assumedly to support one exec’s quote that all the planets aligned for this one-in-a-million moonshot. Her you-are-there approach works once the film’s tortured, elongated, barrier-strewn development process begins, including Scott not in the director’s chair, Goldie Hawn lobbying hard for a lead and failed sitcom supporting player George Clooney auditioning for the small, shirtless role that eventually made a star out of one William Bradley Pitt. One of the strongest parts of Aikman’s book is the epilogue, in which Hollywood remains a boys’ club, despite T&L‘s Zeitgeist success. No argument there.

Another McFarland trade paperback, this one from Lyndon W. Joslin, gets a fresh coat of blood-red paint for its third edition: Count Dracula Goes to the Movies: Stoker’s Novel Adapted. More than half of the book finds the author comparing Bram Stoker’s 1897 epistolary classic to 18 subsequent screen adaptations, to see how faithful (or not) the likes of Tod Browning, Francis Ford Coppola, Werner Herzog, Jess Franco, Dario Argento and Mel Brooks are — or, as the case often is, are not. While Joslin knows Stoker’s text inside and out, reading scene-by-scene beats of each film is tiresome; I quickly found greater enjoyment skipping these synopses and diving straight into his commentary. Later, less-exhaustive chapters focus on the Universal sequels, the Hammer cycle and notable vampire flicks that owe more to the Hollywood matinee than the Gothic text, from AIP’s Count Yorga to the Wes Craven-presented Dracula 2000. This book inadvertently makes a terrific companion to the publisher’s recent Vampire Films of the 1970s. —Rod Lott

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Stillhouse Lake

Rachel Caine’s STILLHOUSE LAKE is a powerhouse of a book with a fairly unique concept. Our protagonist is the victim. She was the wife of a vicious serial killer, a man who tortured and killed young women in the garage of the house. All unbeknownst to her and the couple’s two young children. The crimes only come to light when a drunk driver accidentally careens through their garage door revealing a corpse hung therein.

While at first, Gina Royal is thought to be a suspect, a helper in these grisly murders, it turns out that she really was that naïve, knew nothing, and so is eventually acquitted, given custody of her children, and sent back into the world.

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Virgin Cay / A Night Out

When you think of crime fiction based near the Florida coast, you obviously think of John D. MacDonald. But Basil Heatter, a news commentator and author, was also active during MacDonald’s early career, and portrayed a much more foreboding side to these seafaring locations. Now two of Heatter’s crime novels, VIRGIN CAY and A NIGHT OUT, are available again as part of Stark House’s Mystery Classics series, and demonstrate not only Heatter’s familiarity with the southeastern seacoast, but also his skills with plot construction and characters.

Gus Robinson’s boat is sinking as VIRGIN CAY opens. Robinson struggles to the shore, where he meets Clare. She offers him shelter as well as her bed. Then Clare offers Robinson a chance to earn enough money to buy a new boat and regain his beloved freedom. All he has to do is kill the one person who stands in the way of Clare and a huge inheritance. But then Robinson meets his intended victim and faces an unexpected choice.

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Smith

Lawyer and former U.S. Navy intelligence officer Timothy J. Lockhart’s debut novel SMITH is the story of a skilled killer who becomes a professional assassin. It begins with the promise of a riveting thriller, but sadly loses most of its power through predictability and diminishing trust in its main protagonist.

We first meet Smith as she expertly kills three men with a long-range rifle for mysterious but apparently personal reasons. Not long after these killings, Smith – and yes, that’s the only name she knows and answers to – is approached by a recruiting officer from a group known as The Enterprise. Smith quickly learns that The Enterprise is a clandestine, black ops organization called upon by the U.S. government to eliminate problematic individuals when all else fails. And the offer they make to Smith is literarily one she can’t refuse.

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Shark Island

If you’re considering writing a novel about sharks, you have to realize that comparisons will be made. For those over 30 years of age, you’re going to be brought up against people who have read Peter Benchley’s JAWS and seen Steven Spielberg’s movie adaptation of the same name. For those under 30, you’ll have an easier road because people will just compare you to SHARKNADO.

In the former, you’re going to come off poorly, but you’ll probably win the latter battle. That’s the case with Chris Jameson’s enviro-thriller SHARK ISLAND.

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The Force

Don Winslow’s latest, THE FORCE, again demonstrates Winslow’s masterful ability to present unsettling, contemporary issues through the eyes of complex and remarkable characters. Here, however, our sympathy for the protagonist is challenged like never before. Yet our understanding is never disputed. And it is this clash of emotions – among the many other striking elements — that makes THE FORCE one of the most compelling and memorable crime novels you are ever likely to read.

Denny Malone heads the NYPD’s Manhattan North Special Task Force, an elite unit renown for its ability to wage war on gangs, drugs, and guns. On the street they are known as “Da Force” and not above using the popular “Star Wars” reference. And recently Malone’s Task Force scored the biggest heroin bust in the city’s history.

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Jimi After Dark

Crime author Stephen Mertz’s latest novel, JIMI AFTER DARK, continues his use of popular and influential musicians as the backdrop to a story of murder and mystery – a trend he began with his 2011 novel, HANK AND MUDDY. This time, as the title reveals, the musician is the iconic Jimi Hendrix.

The setting is the early 1970s. Although at the height of his popularity, a few lackluster performances have placed Jimi Hendrix’s career in jeopardy. A music festival he was to headline is canceled. Suddenly desperate for money, Jimi retreats to London – the city where he first found fame with his psychedelic blues guitar playing – and gets tangled up with loan sharks.

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EURO COMICS ROUNDUP >> Hey, Ladies

Following up their fabulous SPANISH FEVER anthology/sampler package, Fantagraphics now unleashes further modern treasures from the vibrant Spanish comics scene. THE LADIES-IN-WAITING continues the current trend of comics biographies, taking aim at one specific painting and the man who painted it: “Las Meninas” by Diego Velazquez, from 1656.

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The Book of Joan

Novelist Lidia Yuknavitch is not a science fiction author. But you wouldn’t know it from reading THE BOOK OF JOAN. Like several contemporary authors, Yuknavitch finds fertile ground for her ideas and expressions within the troupes usually reserved for sci-fi. The result is a stunning and often unsettling work that, like many classics of genre fiction, is memorable for ts creativity as well as its relevance.

The setting is the near future,; a time when world wars have transformed the Earth into an uninhabitable, radioactive battleground. Surviving humans live aboard CIEL, a huge satellite platform orbiting the dead home planet. But over the course of years humans have become sexless, hairless, pale white creatures living in isolation. CIEL is ruled by Jean De Men, a bloodthirsty dictator who has turned CIEL into a police state.

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3 New Entertainment Titles

Similar in structure to fellow McFarland & Company releases Now a Terrifying Motion Picture! and Classic Horror Films and the Literature That Inspired Them, yet by a different author, Ron Miller’s Mystery Classics on Film: The Adaptation of 65 Novels and Stories provides a thorough breakdown of the changes that short stories and novels have undergone on their path from the page to 24 frames per second. Tackling works nearly as old as cinema itself and as recent as the Tom Cruise vehicle Jack Reacher, Miller (formerly a syndicated columnist on the topic of the telly) mines a wealth of whodunits for this multimedia survey, reviewing both the source material and the resulting movie with equal devotion and effectiveness. While several bona fide classics are covered — e.g., Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca and John Huston’s The Maltese Falcon — Miller makes his work more interesting by deviating often from the usual suspects, most obviously in eschewing the Agatha Christie adaptations And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express for … What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw. All this, plus Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew, Mike Hammer, Auguste Dupin and even that lovable serial killer, Dexter Morgan.

Few reads can be as addictive as the oral history, and having written ones on SNL and ESPN, James Andrew Miller is arguably a master of them. Now he turns his attention to another set of initials, CAA, in Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency. A 2016 release now in paperback from Custom House, the brick of a book (now with additional material, no less) traces the unlikely rise of CAA from the ashes of five disenchanted William Morris agents to a near-monopoly on the entertainment industry as a whole. Along the way, a classic Cain and Abel story builds between its two most powerful founders, Mike Ovitz and Ron Meyer, but their fallout occurs in the second act; Powerhouse loses its luster after that, arguing for an earlier ending. Absolutely packed with gossip and dozens of unreliable narrators, Powerhouse offers both a business lesson in innovation and a cautionary tale of hubris.

Not for nothing does Robert Hofler’s latest biography, Money, Murder, and Dominick Dunne: A Life in Several Acts, sport chapter titles of pairs, because his jack-of-all-trades subject is a textbook study in duality — and far more than mere separation of the public and private. Although a married (for a time) man with children, Dunne long enjoyed the company of his own gender, via anonymous restroom encounters and even skipping his father’s wake for a backseat coupling. Hofler plays these details not for gossip’s sake, but in crafting a full portrait of a very complex man — one who forever wrestled with guilt and, following the slaying of his daughter, Poltergeist actress Dominique Dunne, turned guilt of another kind into a second-act career as reporter of cause célèbre trials, most notoriously the O.J. Simpson circus. Whether you know Dunne from that journalism work, from the movies he produced (e.g., The Boys in the Band, The Panic in Needle Park) or from the high-society novels he wrote and their tony television adaptations (The Two Mrs. Grenvilles), Hofler — the author behind one of my all-time favorite cultural histories, 2014’s Sexplosion — does one helluva job documenting the life of one helluva interesting guy. —Rod Lott

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