Exquisite Corpse: Surrealism and the Black Dahlia Murder

exquisite corpse black dahlia reviewWhile Brian De Palma’s THE BLACK DAHLIA tanks in theaters, readers can explore a very different aspect of Hollywood’s most notorious unsolved murder in Mark Nelson and Sarah Hudson Bayliss’ EXQUISITE CORPSE: SURREALISM AND THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER. Be warned: It ain’t pretty.

The hubbub began with the Jan. 15, 1947 discovery of the body of Elizabeth Short, so distorted and mangled that she “looked like a disassembled mannequin or a discarded marionette.” Nelson and Bayliss briefly recount the facts and theories of the case – enough to give you a background without giving you too much – before delving into their true thesis, as it were: That several surrealist artists of the time found inspiration in Short’s tragedy, and furthermore, this connection may actually hold the key to its resolution.

If it all sounds strange, the proof is on the page. EXQUISITE CORPSE includes several actual crime-scene photographs, which – even decades removed – prove mega-disturbing. Compare these with the subsequent select works of such notable artists as Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Man Ray and Marcel Duchamp; this amounts to oft-segmented nudes, oddly posed dolls and visages of minotaurs – enough similar imagery that the influence cannot be discounted.

To see a book double as a true-crime tale and an art-history essay is jarring, but in a good way; it’s definitely a take I’ve not seen before. The fact that it’s presented in the coffee-table format both speaks to the true artistic nature of the subject as well as a streak of bad taste. Let’s just say if you showcase this title on your furniture, you might be busy wiping up a lot of spilt Sanka and regurgitated breakfasts. It’s fascinating stuff – and not out of the question, given the research – but a study you might want to keep to yourself. –Rod Lott

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WEEKEND REGASM >> 10.22.06

weekend regasmOur end-o’-week roundup of what you missed while working for The Man!

BOOKGASM’S favorite non-gifting holiday is quickly approaching, and pre-Halloween lunacy is infecting the whole office. Our esteemed editor, Rod Lott, has started carrying a flashlight everywhere he goes, as he thinks it gives him an air of “demonic authority” when he issues directives with spooky underlighting on his face, and office noob Allan Mott is asking everyone if they plan to dress up like Elvira, Mistress of the Dark on the 31st. “Uh, no reason. I’m just wondering,” is his response when we ask him why he asks. Shudder. Anyway, on to the books.

tales from the darkside tv downloadMONDAY >> 10.16.06
Much like Rod Lott, I was always creeped out by the intro for TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE as a youngster. Unfortunately, after you got past that part, it was all cheap puppetry and telegraphed twists, despite scripts from well-known writers. In book form, it doesn’t get much better, as evidenced by TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE: VOLUME ONE, doomed from the start by the editors’ plot to create a TALES multimedia empire. But Mitchell Galin and Tom Allen are no Martin H. Greenberg, and Lott gives this work a resounding “meh.”

I got a strange call Tuesday as I started crafting the blurb for Louis Fowler’s review of Joe Eszterhas’ THE DEVIL’S GUIDE TO HOLLYWOOD: THE SCREENWRITER AS GOD. It was Eszterhas himself, telling me that I’d “better not slam” his book a second time, or “I’d never get a job in this town again.” After clarifying that said town was Hollywood, I asked him if he really thought I had been swamped with movie deals before he called. “Um, this is the number for VARIETY, right?” the obviously delusional hack asked. “Sorry, dude,” I replied. “This is BOOKGASM. You know, reading to get excited about? I don’t know the number for VARIETY, but I can get you in touch with my friend Karen at THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, if you want.” “No, no, it’s cool,” he said. “By the way, you should go rent SHOWGIRLS. It’s going to be the cult hit of the new generation.” “Sure it is.” Click. You get the gist.

Brian Wiprud (pretentious middle initial removed) has a new book out, and if you aren’t stunned by the originality of the title (SLEEP WITH THE FISHES), Bruce Grossman doesn’t think the novel itself will do anything for you, either. It seems like a blatant attempt at winning over the obsessive Carl Hiaasen crowd, and Grossman says it’s definitely a mediocre rehash.

black dahlia crime scene photosTUESDAY >> 10.17.06
Along with the meshback trucker hat and the ironic appreciation of Pabst Blue Ribbon, the not-for-general-consumption coffee table book is a staple of Modern Hipster culture. EXQUISITE CORPSE: SURREALISM AND THE BLACK DAHLIA MURDER graphically taps this demographic with gruesome crime scene photos and equally gruesome surrealist paintings. See? It’s ironic, because you don’t expect grisly photos in a coffee table book! Anyway, Rod Lott liked the book, but he still can’t find a suitable coffee table for it. Maybe in the dungeon…

Apparently, you can’t judge a book by its cover, which is a goddamn shame, because Bruce Grossman pulled out an awesome cover for his BULLETS, BROADS, BLACKMAIL & BOMBS column last week: GUN TALK AT YUMA, written by The Punisher’s alter ego, Frank Castle. Castle needs to stick to wasting lowlifes; Grossman was severely let down by GUN TALK. THE MILLION DOLLAR BLOODHUNT also turned out to be disappointing, though LONGARM #48 tripped his trigger with a Harlequin-style cover and plenty of sex and violence.

tomb of dracula hypnosis sexWEDNESDAY >> 10.18.06
We read a lot of books here at BOOKGASM. I mean a lot. But sadly, not every book we read lends itself to a full-sized review; hence the QUICKGASM, the most recent of which reviews books ranging from NCIS copycat thrillers to clockwork chess-playing Turks with people inside them to the totally wacky Bobby Fischer and his war with reality. Oh yeah, and Dracula. Lots of Dracula, Marvel Comics-style.

As it hearkens back to his years as a teenage girl reading books with angst-ridden teenagers on the cover, the ROGUE ANGEL series has a special place in Rod Lott’s heart. The second book of the series, ROGUE ANGEL: SOLOMON’S JAR, is a bit of a letdown, though, and Rod has written a message on notebook paper that I have to pass to author Alex Archer. It reads:

“Alex,
Do you like me? Check one: [] yes [] no [] maybe. If you do like me, please write better ROGUE ANGEL books. This SOLOMON’S JAR
paint-by-numbers crap is totally lame.
BFF,
Rodney”

We’ll know how this turns out in November upon the release of ROGUE ANGEL: THE SPIDER STONE.

cannibal holocaust downloadTHURSDAY >> 10.19.06
I’ve mentioned the Modern Hipster once today already, but once again they’re relevant, because their ironic love of all things they consider to be bad makes them a major target of books like SWEET & SAVAGE: THE WORLD THROUGH THE SHOCKUMENTARY FILM LENS. I going to let you in on a little secret: I fucking hate hipsters. There are awesome things to be appreciated about these films that make them great, unlike your John Deere hat, which probably cost $20 too much. Louis Fowler is right there with me, and this is a great book, not as an ironic statement to go with your original Nintendo in the living room, but as a reference to true outsider artistry. Wow, I don’t know where that came from.

Undaunted by my previous tauntings, Allan Mott returned for a second FRAMES O’ REFERENCE column, this time considering Joe Queenan, who decided to turn a successful career as a snarky film critic into a career as an independent filmmaker and failed ridiculously. You’d think this would be an object lesson for some people, but it hasn’t stopped Mott from mortgaging his grandmother’s house to finance FRAMES O’ REFERENCE: THE MOVIE, starring Eric Roberts as Mott and Shannon Tweed as Rod Lott. I will be played by John Cusack, as always, and Ken Davis plays himself. (Because, hey, the budget only goes so far.)

The Smoking Gun has really cemented its niche in the 21st century as the pre-eminent source for awesomely hilarious and sad legal documents. They’ve hit a home run yet again with THE DOG DIALED 911: A BOOK OF LISTS FROM THE SMOKING GUN, and I’d like to give a shout out to Louis, who added some extra hyperbole in exchange for the exclusion of my embarrassing arrest trying to photograph Charo nude in the bath. I owe you one, dude.

tales of the zombie 4FRIDAY >> 10.20.06
Marvel’s horror magazines always confused me as a youngling. Were they comics? Where were the colors? What’s up with all the words? While I still struggle with the printed word, I now can appreciate the juicy goodness of Marvel’s ESSENTIAL TALES OF THE ZOMBIE: VOL. 1, and Rod Lott digs in like Simon Garth. Love the Boris Vallejo covers, too.

Lincoln Barclay has a surefire geek hit on his hands with LONE WOLF: If Bruce Grossman, who’s read more paperbacks than somebody who reads a lot of paperbacks all the time, is hooked on the first page, mere mortals don’t stand a chance. Clever, funny crime with a pop-culture twist? Set me up.

One day, when we have contacts high up in the publishing world, the BOOKGASM crew will be able to turn our watercooler conversation and sparkling Happy Hour wit into one-off humor books to sell at B. Dalton. In the meantime, Craig Damraurer will do it, and he does it well with NEW MATH: EQUATIONS FOR LIVING. You see, he has equations for things, that are both true and funny. Jealous snarkiness aside, it looks pretty funny, and Rod agreed.

That winds up the week. Next week I’m sure we’ll have some crazy Halloween costume preparations, additional scary book reviews and plenty of juicy, juicy fun. Laters. –Ryun Patterson

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The Devil You Know

devil you know reviewA friend of mine noticed a copy of Poppy Z. Brite’s THE DEVIL YOU KNOW on my coffee table, picked it up and said, “That’s … different.” She was referring to the misshapen cat sprawled across the cover, but as I’d come to find shortly thereafter, her first impression was spot-on.

The stories within aredifferent. A couple of them, most notably the FIRESTARTER-esque “Burn, Baby, Burn,” may appear derivative upon first glance, but while readers are likely to think Charlie McGee for a time, they’re more likely to remember Liz Sherman from the Kansas side of Kansas City (Hellboy fans already know her, anyway) with as much fear and cautious adoration. And “System Freeze” is set inside the world of THE MATRIX movies, though Brite tells us in her introduction that the characters are hers. Not a big fan of the films themselves, it’s easily my least favorite story in this volume of gems.

The title story kicks things off after a telling foreword by the author (I sometimes skip these things but even after Brite’s permission to do so, I kept reading). “The Devil You Know” is strange, funny and, like most of the book, compulsively readable. In fact, if you’re looking for the slow, Gothic style employed in Brite’s previous collections like WORMWOOD, you’ll either be disappointed or pleasantly surprised.

Throughout the collection, the writing is tight, the author’s sense of humor soars and the dialogue especially rings true. I’d say that the style lies somewhere between the saturated trappings of the aforementioned WORMWOOD and Brite’s horror novels like EXQUISITE CORPSE, but even that’s not quite right. There’s a maturity here that was never actually missing from her previous efforts, with the best example of this probably being the poignant coming-of-age tale “Lantern Marsh.” Though I never read it in its original form, the author explains that it is an old story — written around 1983 — that she reworked for the Halloween anthology OCTOBER DREAMS.

“The Heart of New Orleans” is current and moving, and “Marisol” will have you remembering the old adage about dishing it out and taking it, and you’ll be smiling and cringing at once. Believe me, it’s possible.

If you’re familiar with the author’s post-horror offerings, you’ll find plenty of familiar characters and voices sprinkled throughout this thin volume. If you’re not, don’t worry — it’s still her best collection yet. –Jason Light

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The Song Is You

song is you reviewIn the vein of the Black Dahlia case, Megan Abbott takes a real missing persons case and weaves a story around it, in her sophomore novel THE SONG IS YOU. In October 1949, a young starlet by the name of Jean Splanger goes out for a night, never to come back, with a purse and mysterious note being the only clues to her absence.

Fast-forward two years and we meet former movie magazine writer Gil “Hop” Hopkins, now a studio press agent who has to put out the fires – the scandalous things that need hushing up so as to not ruin stars’ careers. It’s business as usual for Hopkins until one day, a girl who was friendly with Hop back in the day around the time of the disapperance comes to him out of the blue, claiming he knows more about what really happened and that he should do something about it.

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