First, an admission, not a confession: There are lots of valid reasons to hate Al Adamson's 1971 monster mash and condemn it to b-movie hell. It features appalling make-up, it exploits struggling actors like Lon Chaney Jr. and J. Carrol Naish, it consigns once proud Universal monsters to a boardwalk setting, and it just looks plain ugly. So, hate away if you will, but I find it eternally charming. Want to distract me? Start this going on the DVD player, and I get lost in its sleazy, grindhouse world. The horror blogosphere has had its fair share of debate lately regarding critical standards, and I'm afraid I just won't offer anything here to allay the impression that some horror viewers will watch anything. This film is like a sticky, greasy plate of fries: it ain't great cuisine, and nobody needs to go to culinary school to learn how to make them, but I like them anyway.
Nostalgia has a lot to do with it. I first saw this film at a rather young age, already full-on versed in Universal lore, but coming across this film on a Saturday morning both enthralled me and upset my sensibilities. Its use of color looked garish and ill-fitting, much like the characters themselves and their counter-culture clothing and attitudes. Without knowing anything about grindhouse cinema, though, I'm somehow got it and realized that the film HAD to look this way to work.
Now, the film seems almost quaint, and despite his incompetence, Adamson directs with a sense of assurance that all this somehow works. And, in fact, on some inane level it does. Of course, Dracula has big hair and barely functioning make-up. The important thing is that he a ring that can fry anything, even the character who we have accepted as the hero for much of the narrative. Yes, the Frankenstein monster has a rubbery face that barely resembles anything human, but look at how Dracula so easily tears him apart in the film's climactic battle (over a sexy, bosomy blond tart no less!). Yes, Lon Chaney looks like a bloated alcoholic shadow of his former self, but he gets to terrorize people with that ax!
Placed in the context of its grindhouse brethren, DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN comes across as the cleanest sleaze movie of all time, a porn film with no pornography and only the slimmest hint of any nudity. Despite its inadequacies, I'd take it over almost any feature currently making its way through the multiplexes. How's that for standards?
I haven't stopped lamenting the slow demise of Shocklines, which for a few years stood as THE one-stop place to shop for horror literature. Most of all, I spent a small fortune buying a number of chapbooks and smaller 'zines featuring the likes Christine Sng, Michael A. Arnzen, and Bruce Boston. Not only has Shocklines been gradually closing shop, but the kind of publications it offered seem harder to find than ever, a symptom no doubt of a struggling economy and a culture that seems to value less than ever the written word. In particular, I always sprung for POE LITTLE THING, a small press publication that featured some of the best examples of contemporary "horrific" poetry. Recently, POE LITTLE THING made the leap to an electronic format, which means you can access its contents easily, though I miss the experience of being able to hold a copy in my grimy little hands. You can find the Spring 2009 issue here, and be on the look-out for "Better Than a Virgin Birth," one of my recent works of flash fiction.
Yeah, I know we're not supposed to evaluate a book based on its cover, but how can anyone resist that above image of UNSPEAKABLE HORROR, an anthology of gay-themed horror edited by Vince A. Liaguno and Chad Helder? Looking beyond the cover, the book contains excellent stories by well-known names within contemporary horror literature, including Scott Nicholson, Sarah Langan, and Kealan Patrick Burke. The story that stopped me dead in my tracks, however, was "The Boys of Bald Hill" by C. Michael Cook, which alone makes the anthology worth picking up. The story involves a boy who explores his sexual identity with a friend in a fenced-off cave, resulting in some devastatingly gruesome events. I have not renewed my membership in the HWA in a few years, but I sincerely hope that someone gives Cook a Stoker nod.
UPDATE: According to Vince Liaguno's blog, Slasherspeak, the book was in fact nominated for a Stoker in the anthology category. Congratulations Vince!
The image above comes from WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS, and after watching Classic Media's recent DVD, I found that this moment still manages to unsettle me. Kaiju films tend to inspire more "wonder" than "horror," but director Ishiro Honda no doubt hoped to rattle our psyches with this film, especially when this creature gazes hungrily up at a fisherman from the depths of the ocean. The still image arguably does not do justice to the way this moment plays on film, as the ripples of the water further distort the monster's grotesque appearance. Having previously only seen the American cut of the film, I found the film even more satisfying as a sequel to FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD, as the Japanese cut plainly presents itself. This is a film we can continue to savor, as it adds further layers to Frankenstein lore by imagining creatures spawned from the original's fragmented cells. The passage of time seems to have served this film especially well as we see our current advances in science and medicine reflected back to us in the form of this kaiju nightmare.