Friday, April 19, 2013

Psycho II

On Monday night, Heather and I went to see Hitchcock at the hole-in-the-wall off of Via del Corso that shows English language movies.  We were impressed.  It's a testament to the legacy of Psycho that fifty years later someone's even made a movie about how it was made.  While it's hard to see Hitchcock and not immediately want to go home and rewatch the original film, it actually reminded me of something else.

It isn't common knowledge outside of horror fandom, but Psycho spawned a line of non-Hitchcock directed sequels.  What's even more uncommon knowledge is that Psycho II is actually pretty damn good.

Now pause right there.  Why do you find that hard to swallow?

There are certain films, like The Wizard of Oz or the original Star Wars trilogy, which contain a level a vision that elevates them to an untouchable status.  They weren't just at the top of their game, they ushered in a new era of film history.  That's why Return to Oz and whathaveyou are thought of as appendages rather than successors.  

Also, horror franchises have a bad connotation.  Without getting into a discussion about what constitutes "high" and "low" art, Psycho is a scene by scene, line by line, frame by frame masterpiece.  Despite belonging to a genre typically sneered at by the literati, it's regarded as one of the greatest films ever made.  Slasher flick sequels, however, are traditionally low-rent and targeted at teenaged audiences with lukewarm expectations.  Lumping Psycho in with the five hundred Nightmares of Roman Numeral Street seems downright insulting.

But somehow, this one works.

Psycho II opens with a flashback to the Shower Scene.  Right away, we know what we're in for.  By cut-and-pasting one of the most iconic and intricately shot scenes in film history and presenting it before the title credits, the film admits up front what it is: a midnight movie hinging on a classic.  Now that we all know where we stand, it's that much easier to take the film on its own terms.  And if you do, it's a fun ride.

One of the interesting things about this film is that it asks the age-old question: what happens after the horror movie?  Sure, the villain's been defeated (at least for now), but now what?  How do the survivors piece their lives back together after all they've been through?  How does the terrorized community begin to heal?  Can the madman be redeemed?

The action begins twenty years after the death of Marion Crane.  Norman Bates (played by an appropriately aged Anthony Perkins) has been released from the psych ward, supposedly rehabilitated, and is attempting to assimilate back into society.  He gets a job at a restaurant.  He tries to make friends with everyone.  He meets a girl he kinda likes.  Above all, throws all the dirt he can on the memory of Poor Dead Mother.

But it's not so easy.  A few of the locals aren't eager to forgive and forget, and soon, the phantoms from the past start rattling their chains.  Norman receives eerie reprimanding notes signed with his mother's name.  A few townies who go snooping around the Bates Motel turn up missing.  The silhouette of an old woman is seen in the upstairs window.  In the spirit of the original, each revelation brings us almost to a resolution, but always with one awkward piece left over.

The absolute coolest aspect of Psycho II is that this time Norman's the hero.  He's made an honest attempt to reform, and now the mystery he has to solve is himself.  Is he being tormented by his enemies?  Is he losing his mind again?  Maybe both?  I don't want to give any more away, but I will say that Norman makes for an easily likable antihero.  After all, he's not evil.  He's just fucking nuts.

Bottom Line: If you can suspend disbelief for two hours, you'll see what Hitchcock's greatest would look like as a grindhouse flick.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Abandon All Hope

One of my goals this year is to get through The Divine Comedy.  The copy I'm reading is a gorgeous coffee-table sized edition by Chartwell Books, Inc., which contains all the engravings by Gustave DorĂ©.  Last I checked Barnes and Noble were selling it in the discount section, so if you're a Dante fan, or interested in dipping into him, go pick one up.  My only complaint is that it doesn't contain the original Italian.  Then again, most mother-tongue Italian speakers I know tell me even they have difficulty with it, which means I wouldn't have a chance in hell.

Right now I'm on Canto XXXIV of the Inferno.  So far so good.  I particularly dig the part about Count Ugolino eating the brains of Archbishop Ruggieri for all eternity.

Already we had gone away from him,
When I beheld two frozen in one hole,

So that one head a hood was to the other;

And even as bread through hunger is devoured,
The uppermost on the other set his teeth,

There where the brain is to the nape united.
                                               (Inferno, Canto XXII)

When he had said this, with his eyes distorted,
The wretched skull resumed he with his teeth,

Which, as a dog's, upon the bone were strong.
                                               (Inferno, Canto XXXIII)

Frank Miller can't write lines that cold.

And now, on to Purgatory and Paradise.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Religion, Politics, Etc.

I'm very happy to announce that my story 'Render Unto Caesar' will be appearing in the next issue of Independent Ink magazine.  It's about money and religion (in case you couldn't tell from the title), specifically investment capitalism and the Catholic Church, and what happens when those two towers fall into one another.  It'll probably get me excommunicated and alienated from half my family.

I received a very kind email from the editor containing this line:

Used to make it policy to avoid politics and religion, however there is so much humanistic truth in talking about them in the right way...

That made my day. :)

The next issue's due to be released on June 20th.  Wait for it. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013

New Interview

I was interviewed by the legendary librarian and all-things-book-related expert Molly Weeks Crumbly.  We talked about the stories I've published recently, my writing process, and where I get my ideas.  Check it out on her blog!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Sentient Hamster

Well, I hope this wasn't an April Fools joke...

A couple years ago I wrote a goofy sci-fi story called 'The Sentient Hamster'.  It reads a little like Douglas Adams would if he'd grown up in American suburbia.  The story was rejected a dozen times, with the general consensus being that it was well-written, but not a very original idea.  I could see where they were coming from, but I was still kinda proud of the piece, and held out a faint hope that one day it would find a home somewhere.

About a month ago I submitted it to an upcoming anthology of stories written in the vein of old-school monster movies.  I figured that if the story belonged anywhere, it was there.

Yesterday I got an email from the publisher.  They said that while the story didn't fit the theme they're shooting for with that particular collection, they had received so many stories about aliens that they'd decided to release a separate book consisting entirely of alien encounters.  They want my story for that one.

So, is there a moral here?  If you've made something you love, but no one else seems to, maybe it just hasn't found the right audience yet.

Monday, April 1, 2013

'So It Goes' is On the Shelves

I'm very pleased to announce that So It Goes: A Tribute to Kurt Vonnegut (which contains my short story 'The Truth') has been released!  As of yesterday, it's available for purchase at PMMP's website and, as both a paperback and an ebook.  Pick up a copy, spread the word to your fellow KV fans, and please drop me a line to let me know what you think of the story.