The Lake

richard laymon the lake reviewRichard Laymon’s latest posthumous novel, THE LAKE, begins with a teenage girl named Deana watching her boyfriend get killed by a man in a chef’s hat at their makeout point. It’s kind of like how her mom Leigh watched her own boyfriend die post-orgasm in a rickety old cabin during that one summer at the lake 18 years ago.

Could the two incidents be related? Of course they could. How else could Laymon stretch this thing out to 400 pages otherwise? I liked the first two-thirds of THE LAKE, but the rest falls victim to dialogue that rings false, piss-poor plotting and an unforgivable absence of logic. In real life, two women living on their own as Leigh and Deana do wouldn’t hang around the house when they know that not one but two killers are on the loose and out for their blood. Nor would a loving mother like Leigh leave her daughter alone in the middle of the night amidst all this craziness to go settle a fight at her restaurant. These two just don’t know how to dial 911.

But they do know how to get freaky. The sex is always abundant and fairly explicit in Laymon’s novels, but these gals have to be the horniest female characters he’s ever written. Alas, this isn’t enough to save THE LAKE from drowning in its own mediocrity. Tighter plotting and more believability may have resulted in a more satisfying suspenser, but what we have is something like feels like a hasty first draft. It’s not the worst of Laymon’s books I’ve read, but there are far better ones.

Happy Halloween!

halloween horror anthology reviewHalloween is here again, and those of you paying attention hopefully have noticed we’ve spent the days leading up to it reviewing some notable horror anthologies of the past couple years. There were 12 in all – no rhyme or reason behind that number – each denoted with that cute little skull-pumpkin graphic you see to your right.

In case you missed any of them, here are handy-dandy links to each one, in the order we reviewed them:
INTO THE MUMMY’S TOMB
999: TWENTY-NINE ORIGINAL TALES OF HORROR AND SUSPENSE
FOUR DARK NIGHTS
THE MANY FACES OF VAN HELSING
JACK THE RIPPER
THE ULTIMATE FRANKENSTEIN
THE BEST HORROR FROM FANTASY TALES
THE 13 BEST HORROR STORIES OF ALL TIME
DON’T OPEN THIS BOOK!
THE ULTIMATE HALLOWEEN
THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE: TALES OF COSMIC HORROR
AMERICAN GOTHIC TALES

King climbs DARK TOWER for Marvel Comics

dark tower stephen king marvel comicsStephen King will add comic books to his writing resume when THE DARK TOWER, a monthly series based upon his seven-volume fantasy opus of the same name, debuts next April from Marvel Comics.

The issues will expand upon Roland the Gunslinger’s quest via prequels and other original stories, rather than strict adaptations of the books. Handling art duties will be Eisner-award-winning artist Jae Lee (TRANSFORMERS/G.I. JOE, ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR). A hardcover edition collecting the first six issues will be available by year-end 2006.

For more information, visit http://www.marvel.com/king.

Profoundly Erotic: Sexy Movies That Changed History

Profoundly Erotic joe bob briggs reviewSome movies are designed to titillate, yet none set out to alter the very fabric of our nation, much less the world. However, every now and then, some do – whether legally, culturally or otherwise – and America’s foremost drive-in movie critic Joe Bob Briggs examines 10 such instances in PROFOUNDLY EROTIC: SEXY MOVIES THAT CHANGED HISTORY.

A sequel to 2003’s PROFOUNDLY DISTURBING: SHOCKING MOVIES THAT CHANGED HISTORY, this all-EROTIC volume has nothing but sex on the brain, mining hormonally charged gems (and turds) from the silent era to the VHS revolution. Arranged chronologically, each chapter focuses on one landmark film, detailing its ever-torrid history from conception to afterlife. Even the movies that hold no interest for you – say, the Rudolph Valentino vehicle THE SHIEK – make for completely fascinating stories under Joe Bob’s tutleage, what with such irresistible leads as “In 1921, the entire civilized world became entranced by a rape fantasy.”

Without question, the stories behind the movies are more interesting than the movies themselves. You learn about Valentino’s pre-fame gig as a gigolo; Ann-Margret’s utterly bizarre rollercoaster of a career, reaching its nadir with KITTEN WITH A WHIP (though Joe Bob convincingly argues for the film’s unappreciated merits); Kim Basinger’s fragile emotional state during the making of 9 1/2 WEEKS, thanks to the manipulation of her director and co-star; and the racuous behavior of the lead of Russ Meyer’s THE IMMORAL MR. TEAS, drunkenly demanding one of his comely co-stars to bed him. Best of all is the chapter on I AM CURIOUS (YELLOW), the Swedish political porno that became embroiled in a fierce legal battle when its U.S. distributor first tried to release it in the late ’60s. I’ve never seen the film, nor do I want to; it would pale in comparison to the rich events told here.

As with DISTURBING, absent are Joe Bob’s patented “drive-in totals,” which rate flicks on a basis of bosoms bared and bombs blown up. But EROTIC doesn’t need it. This is a more serious – but highly entertaining – tour of cinematic history, yet told as only Joe Bob could tell it: funny, well-researched and compelling. It’s also a reminder of how good a writer Briggs (aka John Bloom) really is; behind that goofy, redneck TV-host persona lies one intelligent, talented guy. If you want a crash course on the salicious history of sex epics, this is your luridly illustrated textbook.

Joe Bob notes in his introduction that “chances are the film you found to be the sexiest ever made is nowhere mentioned. That’s because eroticism involves the most personal of judgments.” But if you’re wondering where films like IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT, LOLITA, BELLE DE JOUR, THE OUTLAW, EMMANUELLE and SEX, LIES, AND VIDEOTAPE are, join the club. These titles were all cited in pre-release press materials for the book, so one can only hope Joe Bob has another EROTIC volume waiting under his 10-gallon hat.

First & Fifteenth: Pop Art Short Stories

first & fifteenth pop art short stories reviewFIRST & FIFTEENTH: POP ART SHORT STORIES is a graphic novel unlike any other. Written and illustrated by renowned graffiti artist Steve Powers, the book is comprised of eight brief vignettes in an urban, not-unlike-NY setting. Each square page (or two-page spread) is its own bleeding panel, leading up to a punchline that – while not always funny – caps an always interesting walk to the finish.

Some of Powers’ stories are based on fact, others spring from his fertile mind, yet they all coexist nicely in the wild universe he’s created. A few feature the chemically enhanced and oft-lazy superhero known as Superfeen, more interested in smokes and shots (those administered both via glass and syringe) than saving lives. Other stories involve shoplifted hams, insurance fraud, dodgeball fights and lowlife con artists.

But with so few words, the storytelling is beside the point; FIRST & FIFTEENTH exists for art’s sake, and Powers’ work is magnificent. True to the “pop art” aesthetic, his images are clearly drawn and garishly colored, with dialogue conveyed not through word balloons, but via lettering that looks lifted from matchbook covers, grocery-store signage and classified ads. Each page simultaneously looks like it was assembled with Colorforms and like it’d look damn cool on your wall behind a frame.

American Gothic Tales

american gothic talesAnyone who’s picked up an anthology in recent years is bound to find a story from the ridiculously prolific Joyce Carol Oates in there; she excels at the format. And as an anthologist, she ain’t bad, either, judging from AMERICAN GOTHIC TALES.

A brick of a book, this collection of TALES examines the path of Gothic fiction through 46 stories spanning 200 years. It attempts to draw a direct line from the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne to the likes of Stephen King, and I think it succeeds. It begins with established classics like Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat,” working its way up through Henry James, Ambrose Bierce and the ghost stories of Edith Wharton.

halloween horror anthology reviewThe next generation includes H.P. Lovecraft, August Derleth, Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson (though not, as would would expect, “The Lottery”), while the new crowd is represented by Anne Rice, Peter Straub and Oates herself. It’s not surprising that you would find such luminaries in a book like this. What is surprising, however, is finding names you wouldn’t normally associate with Gothic or horror literature: Sylvia Plath, Raymond Carver, Don DeLillo, E.B. White and William Faulkner, to name a few.

With the exception of Ursula Le Guin’s “Schrödinger’s Cat,” there are no “finds” in AMERICAN GOTHIC TALES, but it’s awfully nice to have so many classic stories in one volume.

EW tells history of WATCHMEN

watchmen absolute edition review alan mooreA mere week after being named one of the 100 greatest novels by Time magazine, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ landmark graphic novel WATCHMEN has its almost-20th-anniversary celebrated in the pages of the new issue of Entertainment Weekly.

Written by Jeff Jensen, “WATCHMEN: An Oral History” recalls how an idea to reinvent old Charlton Comics characters instead transformed into a wholly original masterpiece that is even more relevant today. Putting in their two cents are Moore, Gibbons, Neil Gaiman, Joss Whedon and LOST producer Damon Lindelof, among others. The article coincides with the release of WATCHMEN: ABSOLUTE EDITION, a hardcover edition with supplemental extras, which you can buy for me as a Christmas present.

State of Fear

state of fear michael crichton reviewMichael Crichton’s latest novel, STATE OF FEAR – just out in paperback – supposes that radical environmental groups help aid their causes by spreading fear. They accomplish this by becoming terrorists who control the weather with complicated technology, all to create “natural” disasters to make the public think global warming is happening far faster than reality has it.

So they create an earthquake here and a flash flood there. They can even assassinate people by causing a lightning storm to track intended victims through their cell phones. A lawyer and a government agent head up a small group of people out to thwart the group’s plans, which leads them on a dangerous adventure around the globe, culminating – and this is timely – in one mother of a tsunami.

Somehow, all the science talk (and this is a book riddled with factual footnotes and charts) proves fascinating, forming a bridge between the fast-paced action scenes in which Crichton excels. Treading on TWISTER territory with its focus on extreme weather (but minus the goofy cheese, thankfully), STATE OF FEAR is not his best, but it is rather enjoyable.

The Colour out of Space: Tales of Cosmic Horror

colour out of space lovecraft reviewThe unmistakable work of illustrator Charles Burns on the cover is your first clue that THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE: TALES OF COSMIC HORROR is something special. A glance at the contents is your next.

As editor D. Thin writes in his afterword, “The tale of cosmic horror reveals the appalling unnatural essence of nature, something positively indifferent or actively inimical to humanity, which, from the vertiginous perspective thus disclosed, find itself everywhere set apart, outside, undone.” In other words, “weird tales,” with some of its finest practitioners being H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe and Algernon Blackwood.

The basis of the forgotten film DIE, MONSTER, DIE!, Lovecraft’s title tale is a dialogue-free account of an otherworldly force halloween horror anthology reviewthat infects a small farming community. It’s one of his best, though not his best-known. By the same token, Poe has a handful of more beloved tales than “MS. Found in a Bottle,” but this is the one that best fits this collection’s theme and tone.

Ambrose Bierce is represented with three stories, the best of which is “Moxon’s Master,” detailing the narrator’s memory of a night playing chess against an automaton. You also get Algernon Blackwood, Henry James and Arthur Machen, but for me, the high point lies with Bram Stoker’s “The Squaw,” a hilariously gory story that warns against killing cats – however accidental – while playing tourist at a German castle. The violence is surprisingly over-the-top for someone who wrote the rather somber-by-comparison DRACULA, and the kick it delivers is alone worth the price of admission.

Q&A with FIRST & FIFTEENTH’s Steve Powers

first & fifteenth pop art short stories reviewPart art book and part graphic novel, FIRST & FIFTEENTH: POP ART SHORT STORIES is the work of Steve Powers, a New York-based graffiti artist with a six-count felony indictment to prove it! Look for our review within a few days; in the meantime, here’s a Q&A with the author/illustrator, as unconventional and welcome as his work.

BOOKGASM: Each page of FIRST & FIFTEENTH is suitable for framing. What media are used and, on average, how long did you spend crafting each page?

POWERS: Each page is enamel on aluminum. They took between three days and one week each, depending on if I had assistants helping and how distracted I was.

BOOKGASM: In terms of graffiti, where do you think the line between “vandalism” and “work of art” falls?

POWERS: It’s all a matter of catering; graffiti gets you a baloney sandwich, and “work of art” gets you wine and cheese.

BOOKGASM: And why do you think graffiti is still seen as the former rather than the latter by the general public? How does a book like this help change that, if at all?

POWERS: Graffiti is a name written where it doesnt belong, and the public’s perception of that depends on how threatened they are by it. The kids that write graffiti don’t think my book is graff, but they like it just the same. At least they can show it to their parole officers as an example of a vandal getting a job.

BOOKGASM: What’s up with Superfeen? What’s behind the creation of this hard-drinking, pill-popping, chain-smoking, mostly lazy superhero?

POWERS: He’s like a lot of people I know floating around in Manhattan. Superfeen is a step farther, though. He takes in wrong, and puts out right. That’s what makes Superfeen heroic. Most of the derelicts I know give off nothing but bad smells.

BOOKGASM: There are eight stories in the book, but everyone knows the Naked City has a million of them. Do you have plans to tell more? Is your daily life ripe enough to provide you with endless inspiration?

POWERS: I tell stories everyday. Some are even true. Just the other day, a group of church ladies saw me breezing through the airport, and one of them said, “Oooh, where you going dressed like that?” I said, “I’m already there.”

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