Wednesday, November 06, 2013

A New B'ak'tun

Life upheaved yet again this September. I’ve entered a new personal b'ak'tun, it would seem.

My six-to-seven on/off years at Paul Wurth Inc. came to an abrupt close, but it shouldn’t have been a surprise. The company was changing rapidly and news came down that they were moving into offices in Downtown Pittsburgh. That pretty much made the decision for me. Amy spent years commuting from Waynesburg to the North Side when she worked for Verizon and that commute nearly killed her (literally on a couple of winter drives). Plus, she was being paid almost double my salary at the time, so there was no up-side to the idea of my staying with the firm.

I’d figured that they’d keep me on at the office until the end of 2013. They had other thoughts and jettisoned me before the end of their quarter. This decision had less to do with me than it did saving the company a grand or so by getting me off the books. There followed some financial wizardry, none of it to my benefit, but the long and short of it is that I got a firm handshake from HR and was shown the door, given about twenty minutes to pack my shit, say some brief goodbyes and agree that this way I could still apply for unemployment.

[Aside: when I returned a few weeks later to deliver the severing paperwork, the same HR official told me that they received the unemployment notification and that they “weren’t going to fight it.” This came with an air of great magnamity. “Why would you?” I asked.

“We’re not,” he responded. “We could though. I just wanted to let you know—”

“It’s not up to the company.”

“I’ve fought it before and I never lose. But—”

“Why are you even telling me this beyond your own power trip?”

“I wanted to tell you not to worry—”

“I wasn’t worried.”

So I took leave with one last little confrontation wherein someone had the small penile need to assert dominance over me. Cementing the notion that I’d made the right decision.]

I’m not crazy about how things ended, but the ending was inevitable. The company was changing rapidly and I didn’t fit into their current plans, much less their future ones. Back onto the dole I went.

We made sure to get our myriad prescriptions refilled before the benefits stopped. We stocked up on preparable foods, started putting miscellaneous crap on eBay—the usual things you do when you become jobless. I’ve been lucky enough that the majority of times I’ve gone on unemployment, I saw it coming ahead of time. Like those other times, I had plans set in motion. Also like those other times, I must have said them out loud at some point which, as we all know, greatly amuses god. 

The one thing I've been able to do with fair consistency is write every day. It's a habit I've never forced myself to adopt in the past, though I paid lip-service to it in lectures and articles. In the month-plus that I've been unemployed, I've missed writing either because I wasn't home and/or too tired/sick to stick to things. These occasions have been far less frequent than in the past, so I'm looking at this as a good thing. I may not dig everything I write--there's a Middle Grade horror novel I'm working on now that refuses to reveal its footing--but at least I'm doing something beyond Facebook Statuses on an almost-daily basis. 

The next step is to turn this motivation into profit. Which seems to mean turning back time and returning to the '70s when print media was valued. Or at least to some point prior to the ubiquity of the internet and the idea that "anybody" can write. Monetarily speaking, I'm up against a lot of "anybody"s, most of whom are willing to crank out their illiterate screeds for free. Or for the Huffington Post or Salon. "For the exposure."

What's the old saying? A writer could die from exposure.  

Wednesday, July 03, 2013


Coming soon: more RAZOR DAYS news.

But in the meantime, there's been quite a bit of new activity going on over at MOVIE OUTLAW.

New articles on:

*Tom Conti as a non-believer experiencing miracles in:


* Johnny Depp's first portrayal as an American Indian in

THE BRAVE (1997) 

* Lindsay Anderson finishes the "Mick Travis Trilogy" with Malcolm McDowell in:


* Sam Neill and Isabella Adjani end their marriage on a really bad note in Andrzej Żuławski's


* And we explore a film featuring early performances by Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Amber Benson, and explain why you're not allowed to see it in the U.S. with

DON’S PLUM (2001)

So rush on over to Movie Outlaw and prepare to waste some time. 

And when you're done wasting time there, don't forget to order FERVID FILMMAKING from McFarland Press and waste even more time, only with the added thrill of turning pages!



Thursday, May 02, 2013


It took a long time and years of inner struggle but I’ve finally stopped rending my flesh and garments over remakes. It’s not like I can do anything to stop them and since nobody that matters asked for my opinion anyway. Reaching this peace required the recitation of the “Serenity Prayer” until my throat was raw. It also required my viewing, if not embracing, of less-than-stellar versions of classic horror “for the new generation”. I had to remind myself that The Maltese Falcon was shot at least twice before the definitive 1945 John Huston version, so was King Kong—hell, so was Casablanca, and there are always rumors of another coming our way. There always will be. Even though it’s counter-intuitive—your built-in audience, fans of the original, will always be disappointed in the new version and those younger viewers you’re aiming at don’t really care one way or another if the movie had previous incarnations—remakes and sequels are always considered safe money.

The best example, the one I always point to, is that they threw more money at James Gunn to remake Dawn of the Dead than they did for Romero to make an original franchise installment. The Dawn do-over was given more marketing money, more commercial time and it opened in far more theaters than Land of the Dead. Regardless of how you feel about either film, financially Dawn Redeux was the winner.

Therefore, when it was announced that instead of a long-desired Evil Dead 4 we were going to get a “reboot” of the first film, I met this news with neither surprise nor outrage. Maybe fleeting dismay at first, but once I learned that the guys who created the original film and made it what it was, Sam Raimi, Robert Tapert and Bruce Campbell, were on board 100%, my unease got squashed beneath the boot of the inevitable. A new The Evil Dead was upon us and there was nothing I could do about it.

Besides, like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre movies, Evil Dead II, the film I saw before the original and fell in love with, was more or less a remake itself. So who was I to complain? My only concession was to check with Tom Sullivan, the effects master who gave the original’s deadites their DIY charm. Once I learned he had been originally approached to do some design work (turning it down for his own reasons) and had not been shuttered out in the cold, I gave myself permission to go.

Fortunately, I was able to see it in a safe space. Opening weekend coincided with the Thursday night pre-kick-off of the 2013 Spring Cinema Wasteland show and I’d be among loved ones. Almost 20 of us marched into that midnight screening. The white dread on the faces of those already in the theater were priceless to behold. “Oh, no—those people”, that thundering horde that will no doubt ruin the experience for everyone with their talking and laughing and gum-chewing and delinquency! 

I was completely unfamiliar with the new director, Fede Alvarez, best known for his internet-sensation short film, Ataque de Pánico!, which I hadn’t seen. The script was by Alvarez, Rodo Sayagues, and some notoriously “uncredited”, and barely-noticable, “additional dialogue” from the unfathomably-famous Diablo Cody. It started well: a witch-burning in the basement by some Spanish-speaking hillbilly cultists slammed into your eyeball right off the bat, along with plenty of foggy-forest atmosphere. So, cool.

The plot was a little more plotty than I expected, given that both the original and Evil Dead II had premises rather than stories: friends visit a cabin and unleash some nasty, evil Evil. Insert gore and/or slapstick here. In this new one, a group of friends go to a cabin for the express purpose of giving Tessa from Suburgatory (Jane Levy) a much-needed, but oft-repeated, intervention. Beginning by pouring her drugs into the cabin’s well and, therefore, poisoning their sole water supply, the intervention comes to a rather abrupt climax a few minutes later with Mia/Tessa almost immediately relapsing.

Okay, cool, some urgency here. A legitimate reason not to leave the cabin once it starts Evil Dead-ing out. Not sure how the others fit in or even know each other—one of them is her brother and the hippie-schoolteacher guy was apparently once in love with him, I think. Before long, they’re downstairs in that notorious root cellar, but this time, instead of random hanging gourds, they find a room filled with suspended cat corpses. And, of course, the Book of the Dead—returning to the original movie’s nom de biblio, “Naturom Demonto”, instead of the better-known Necronomicon ex Moris (loosely translated “Book of the Dead of the Dead”) from the later movies. You know that this is the big bad book because it’s wrapped in thick black plastic and barbed wire. Now every other animal on Earth would see this as a natural sign of “don’t touch”, but lovelorn hippy guy decides that the barbed wire is obviously a ribbon and bow and can’t wait to open his present. Fine, he doesn’t, we don’t have a movie. Please proceed.

As you’ll recall, the Tom Sullivan-designed Books of the Dead in the previous films are inked in human blood and wrapped in shriek-faced human flesh. Now, do you remember when Madonna put out a photography book called Sex and outraged the Tipper Gores of the world? Okay, remember when Linnea Quigley did something similar with a book called Skin, and the book cover looked like the stitched-together inside of Leatherface? Well, the new-and-improved Naturom Demonto looks just like Linnea’s book. The cover was a simple flesh-quilt that could have been made by any deranged first grader for his Phonics Book. Wrapping in plastic, barbed wire, in a room full of rotting cats, the most evil of all evil books not written by Harold Robbins, this Naturom Demonto was hardly impressive. Do better, movie.

Now comes the fun part, we’re all thinking. In the original, it was Scotty who plays a tape recording of Professor Raymond Knowby (played by Turner Movie Classic’s original host, Bob Dorian) reading the Kandarian incantations. In the subsequent sequel/remake it’s Bruce Campbell’s rock-headed Ash who lets the deadites out of the bag. But it seemed like those guys had an excuse. Ash didn’t know what he was doing; Scotty thought it was “wild” and a joke. Lou Taylor Pucci as Eric is feeling pretty sullen and broody at this point in the film. Judging by the very first few pages of the book—nowhere near as cool as Sullivan’s, which anyone with the special DVD releases can tell you—this Naturom Demonto seemed to have been illustrated by some high school kid in shop class. You know, one of those guys who was “really into” death metal vomit rock but didn’t really know anything about the genre. Screaming women engulfed in flames, missing limbs, etc., all rendered in colored pencil and surrounded by inscriptions in a foreign language. And on top of all that, scribbled in big angry letters, are dire warnings like “DO NOT READ THIS OUT LOUD!” and “QUIT READING THIS OUT LOUD!”

So what does long-haired hippie-freak Eric do? He does a few pencil rubbings to find some key words (presumably on pages torn out because the physics teacher caught the student doodling instead of taking notes) and, quite petulantly and with a voice booming with “Screw you, I’m doing this!” reads the key gibberish we all know and love so well—including the “Kanda” trigger word that means “Demons, c’mere!”. And his pronunciation is terrible. Then, as if on cue, the Shakicam rises from the mist and leaves and zips towards the house. I’ll be honest, my inner Evil Dead geek’s heart thrilled a little to this homage to Raimi’s spirited camerawork.

Now, for months, we’ve been hearing about a “female Ash” this go-around. I was totally cool with this and naturally assumed that Mia/Tessa would be said nigh-invulnerable hero/ine. But in a twist, she’s the first to feel the dead kiss of possession. She’s the one who has to be hurled into that root cellar, the door chained to the floor. Mia/Tessa is now Ellen Sandweiss’s Linda, taunting them from below. Neat.

Except now we’re left with her weak sister of a brother, Shiloh Fernandez as David, who is, in another knowing nod to the original, dressed in an approximation of Ash’s “undateable” look (i.e. the jeans and brown moccasins—in this case, work boots—that Raimi felt would never look dated). Up to this point, David’s been a wussy schnook, but to be fair, so was “Ashley” (as Cheryl called her brother) in the original. Remember, Bruce Campbell spent the majority of the first film trapped beneath a variety of book cases.

By this time, we’re all aware that the other characters, Jessica Lucas as Olivia and Elizabeth Blackmore as Natalie, are there simply to serve the movie as the recipients and delivery-mechanism of gore. Now that the titular Evil Dead force has been unleashed, the movie doesn’t skimp on the much-touted practical gore effects. There are hints of CGI but mostly in service of limb removal. Overseen by Jason Durey, the damage sustained to the human body is beautifully cringe-inducing. In particular, a shot where demon Mia licks the edge of a utility knife and slits her tongue down the middle, I flinched noticeably.

Once the gore really gets going—and it doesn’t take too long to arrive—the audience perked up, thrilling and cheering and laughing like the anti-social murder monkeys they were. Our group was no different, mocking it, lovingly for the most part, pointing out the little in jokes and gags peppered throughout, particularly the appearance of the Raimi “Classic” rusting away behind the cabin. Further down on either end of our row, though, I could feel some growing impatience.

So far, the movie wasn’t the “dick slap in the face” (to quote either Don May, Jr. of Synapse or Michael Felsher of Red Shirt Pictures, who’d attended the previous screening) that we had been dreading. Good gore, decent pace. Nothing too overtly stupid to provoke a walk-out. Things started to get a little ridiculous towards the end—something about the Big Bad needing five souls sacrificed in order to gain access to our world, but the movie had stopped playing by those rules by the third-act twist. I called bullshit on a character’s ability to pull her hand off—not severing it via any tool, that had already happened—but freeing it from a crushing object by just pulling free of all tendons, muscles, bones—in movies, you’re really only held together by pipe cleaners anyway. Look how easy a head comes off in a horror movie? Champagne corks are harder to pop!

Thanks to Don May, who’d read the screenplay beforehand, the ending was supposed to be very different than what wound up on the screen. The Big Bad beast that arose on paper consisted of parts of all the friends, similar to the giant face that confronted Ash at the end of Evil Dead II, but less Audrey II. The beast we got was more Sadako, all elbows and hair. I didn’t know how it figured into the story—was it the girl burned alive at the beginning, some shadowy aspect of Mia/Tessa? Whatever. It was a fine climax but it wasn’t the one I’d been waiting for. Even if Don hadn’t told me of what he’d read, it still wasn’t quite what I felt the movie had been building towards.

If you’re reading this, I’m sure you’ve already heard about or saw the post-credits tag. The nonsensical shot of Bruce/Ash turning to the camera and delivering his famous “Groovy” line. As I’ve learned, there was an original post-tag that had Mia wandering down the road and getting picked up by Ash, thus visually “passing the torch”. This bit was removed after a deal was inked not only for a sequel to this (Evil Dead 2 or 5?) as well as an Army of Darkness 2 that would link everything together. Okay. So Bruce’s little appearance at the end was basically his seal of approval and a nod to future things. Honestly, I was more jazzed at hearing the return of Bob Dorian’s voice-over during the credits. The Bruce thing seemed cute and unnecessary but it didn’t bother me.

It bothered a lot of other people. Not just the folks I saw it with but horror fans globally. Many of the people I talked to later that weekend felt it was a personal insult, an attack on the most loyal of fans.

Ultimately, I didn’t have an emotional reaction to the film one way or another. It certainly did nothing to supplant my affection for the original. Its existence, obviously, does not negate the existence of the original and I have three different formats to choose from whenever I want to revisit. As we filed out of the theater, discussing what we liked and/or (mostly and) what we hated about it, I found that I barely had an opinion about it.

When you get right down to it, The Evil Dead 2013 has some great gore effects. Really top-notch, cross-your-legs and keep-looking, the kind of which I hadn’t seen in quite a while. But there were no people in that film, just actors playing characters born of maybe a paragraph. When one died, I felt nothing. When one survived, I felt the same way.

The original Evil Dead is far from a perfect film but it had, as I said, charm. It had that do-it-yourself (and do-it-to-yourself) spirit that every at-any-cost indie movie has. You can see on screen the hell the filmmakers and actors put themselves through to bring this movie to you. Raimi and company made The Evil Dead because otherwise they would have died trying. There were no such stakes in this new one. Little thought had gone into it except to make it “extreme”. “The most extreme horror movie you’ve ever seen!” It wanted to live up to that boast and nothing more. So it didn’t try to do anything else.

Perhaps the film’s biggest fault lies not with what it is but with what came before it. The Evil Dead did for demonic possession what Night of the Living Dead did for zombies. It created its own sub-genre and thousands of filmmakers have followed in its path. Like Romero, Raimi created a style that could be imitated, lovingly or cynically. Before Burn Notice, Bruce Campbell was merely a working actor who was worshipped all over the world, because he was Ash and he put in the time to bring Ash to life. He’d inspired other lanky weirdoes to try their hands at becoming action/horror/comedy heroes. Most failed, of course. But the point is, there have been hundreds, if not thousands, of cabin-in-the-woods movies in the wake of The Evil Dead, including one produced by our current Fanboy Messiah, Joss Whedon, called Cabin in the Woods.

This new Evil Dead wasn’t anything new. It had a few clever tricks but to me it just felt like another homage to The Evil Dead. It wasn’t its own thing and it never once really tried to be. It wanted to be extreme and on that level it succeeded. It’s a perfectly serviceable, empty-calorie party movie. As far as in-name-only remakes goes, it’s a little better than most. It’s very well-made. The actors do their jobs. The camerawork is Raimi-esque. They could have done better than to desaturate the footage for “grittier” appeal, but that’s a stylistic choice and it remained consistent. I’d probably get it through Netflix when it’s released and I’ll probably moderately enjoy it, but probably less unless I can get my fourteen fellow-travelers back to recreate the experience.

But as far as the movie goes, I’d already seen it before a single frame appeared on screen. There was nothing new. It was just another Evil Dead-type movie. We’ve all seen dozens of those. This just had more money behind it.

To paraphrase one web reviewer, I’d give it a ‘meh and a half’.

Original EVIL DEAD (1983)


EVIL DEAD (2013)


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A Little Bit About Monsters

Got home from work yesterday and there was chaos on television.

My very first thought was that North Korea had actually bombed themselves with their brand new missile. Amy caught me up. Explosions at the Boston Marathon. Then NBC showed the footage, over and over, red and orange and smoke and people blown apart.

I didn't want to open Facebook, usually on my top screen, because I knew what I'd see: sympathy at first, then outrage and then the conspiracy theories, all tumbling over each other. Lots of "thoughts and prayers" and "hopes" for the injured. Lots of outrage over this new horror that some humans inflicted on a great mass of other humans.

The calling for blood didn't take long. The very first one I read was, surprisingly, unrelated to Islamic extremism, but focused squarely on other Americans. The bombs went off in Boston, site of the great original Tea Party, on Tax Day, during a marathon whose last mile was dedicated to the victims of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre. The American political ideologists known as "Tea Partiers" MUST have done this! To protest taxes, and their fears that the Second Amendment is being removed, that their guns will be taken away, that Obama has installed himself as a dictator.

Then came the other side, calling it a smoke screen of hatred from the Liberals. Everyone knows that Liberals hate America and all it stands for.

Then a CNN reporter got us all back on track, calling for the worldwide killing of all Muslims.

Outrage at horror is natural. So is finger-pointing because, in helpless situations beyond your control, blaming FEELS like you're doing something. It actually does feel like helping. The police are so busy restoring order, maybe they need our input. "Look at this person, look at that one!" A burning sensation in your gut is much better than feeling like you're tied down and defenseless.

For more than a decade, we've been a Nation of Rage. Impotent Rage, but rage nonetheless. We are all dogs behind a glass door, barking at the mailman.

It took a Mr. Rogers meme -- "look for the helpers" -- and a post from Patton Oswalt to put things in perspective for me:

Boston. Fucking horrible.

I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, "Well, I've had it with humanity."

But I was wrong. I don't know what's going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.

But here's what I DO know. If it's one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. (Thanks FAKE Gallery founder and owner Paul Kozlowski for pointing this out to me). This is a giant planet and we're lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they're pointed towards darkness.

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We'd have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, "The good outnumber you, and we always will."

Because, before I could even allow myself to take in the reality, I saw people running towards the explosions. Some, knocked over by the blast, took cover first, then instinctively ran to help. And not just the people in their uniforms, but those in civilian clothes, who had been, seconds ago, enjoying the day, and were responding to other people in danger.

I'm numb to the acts of sociopaths. I have no personal reactions to these seemingly increasing numbers of tragedies. Sandy Hook and Aurora, Colorado - I felt nothing but growing blackness, then disgust at the people politicizing tragedy. And that was my initial reaction to the Boston footage. But watching people rush to the aid of others, actually witnessing it instead of reading about it later, it caused my arthritic, shriveled hope to jump a little. And Oswalt's post put that jump into words for me, because quite frankly, I didn't recognize the hope when I felt it.

The next few days are going to be horrible. And I'm under no illusion of what our government is or should be. If this was indeed an hysterical response to what political paranoids see as the "New World Order", well congratulations, you just held the door and ushered it in.

If this was an attack from a different nationality or "just" an act of yet another lone psychopath -- whatever actually happened, the fallout is going to be massive but nothing is really going to change. More inconvenience, more governmental control, and a new spate of circular arguments of safety vs. liberty. Guns will not be confiscated and mental health care will still go unaddressed and unfunded. The bomb will be found to have been made with some household chemical and we'll all have to sign forms and get fingerprinted every time we buy Clorox. Something like that. That'll fix everything.

So I have to focus on the people who rushed into danger. The helpers. I'm married to a helper. Amy is always the first on the scene of a fall, a wreck. If something bad happens in her field of vision, she rushes to help and comfort. I've witnessed this dozens of times over the years, while I usually feel inconvenienced and ashamed.

I'm not going to join in the finger-pointing or in any of the conspiracy reindeer games. I'm going to read and keep up and listen and not feel much of anything. I'm going to acknowledge personal tragedy: that it always takes an act of horror to remind me that the good people, the helpers, outnumber the monsters. But now I have those words to keep in mind when the monsters, given particularly loud voice on the internet, show their faces. The helpers are the white blood cells of the Earth and the monsters the cells who've gone bad.

And I will attempt to believe, with all my heart, that the good is the majority.

Friday, April 12, 2013



I know, I’ve been gone a while. I’m hoping to change that.

My excuse, such as it is, is that I’ve been busy. I spent 2012 editing Razor Days and putting together a pair of books, the first of which made its triumphant debut at the Spring Horror Realm in Pittsburgh: 

Hot off the presses at McFarland Publications comes my first “mainstream” publication in years. While “labor of love” has become an overused term, it pretty much applies here because, above all else, I never ended up hating it.

The title comes from the publisher and I’m not wild about it either. I preferred their previous suggestion of “No Holds Barred Cinema”, even though that too is a bit cumbersome for the human mouth. See, the title gave us all sorts of problems because the book contains essays on a variety of movies that barely—if at all—relate to each other.

I write about cult films like Forbidden Zone, Ralph Bakshi’s Coonskin, The Projectionist, and Stephen Sayadian’s Dr. Caligari.

I also cover old and new indies like The Prodigy, All About Evil, Deadwood Park, Sixteen Tongues, Shatter Dead and Hey, Stop Stabbing Me.

And there are some eccentric foreign films in there—Peter Greenaway’s The Baby of Mâcon, Renais’ Je T’aime, Je T’aime, Bigas Luna’s Anguista (aka Anguish with Zelda Rubinstein).

More than a few under-the-radar movies—Meet the Hollowheads, Twice Upon a Time, The Boneyard, The Return of Captain Invincible, Alex Cox’s Straight to Hell.

And a couple of movies very few people have ever seen for one reason or another, like The Dueling Accountant and Roberta Findlay’s infamous final, unreleased film, Banned.

The only things these movies have in common is that they’re all relatively obscure and completely off the wall. Some in unhinged glee like X-tro, and others in quiet ways like Bertrand Travernier’s La Mort en direct. In the majority of cases, if not all, the filmmakers had near-complete control but either failed to reach the right audience or were saddled with distributors who couldn’t fathom what the audience might be.

I like underdogs. So I wrote about some. It encompassed a good chunk of the first half of 2012, while I was finishing the Razor Days cut, and once the writing was complete I spent another goodly few weeks running down photographs for the chapters, some of which had never been published. I’m pretty proud of the damned thing. 

If there’s any drawback to you running out and buying this book immediately is McFarland’s pricing. McFarland, a company with a lively mixture of pop culture and text books, sets their prices for the specialty market. As I write this, there are copies of Fervid Filmmaking in libraries across the country and can be special-ordered from Barnes & Noble and whatever other “major” bookstore is still standing.

But, like the movies I cover, the target audience gets the shorter end of the stick as Fervid Filmmaking retails at $39.99. I’m sure over the coming months that it’ll become easier to find at “used” and “like new” prices on Amazon, but for right now, that’s a chunk. I understand it all too well as I can barely afford to buy copies for myself!

On the plus side, it seems to be worth the cost, at least as far as them what done bought it’s concerned. The first review it received was from Rod Lott at Bookgasm and I don’t even know that guy (even though he's now my new best friend). I had seven copies with me at Cinema Wasteland and returned home with only two. So I think this book just might have some legs under it. I might even do another one if it sells particularly well, but I won’t know the numbers until next March.

Of course, if you’re not one for pages and physical space, it’s available to download for Kindle and will be offered in other digital formats very soon. The eBooks are a little lighter on the wallet and still contain all those valuable nouns and verbs I love so much.

I’d like to close with a little plea: if you do roll the dice and choose to purchase a copy of Fervid Filmmaking for your very own, please do me the favor of reviewing it on Amazon. Doesn’t have to be a lengthy review, just a few words of “yea” or “nay” (honestly, I don’t care if a review is negative as long as both my name and the book’s title are spelled correctly). I don’t think the cockroaches will worship it after the apocalypse, but I’m pretty proud of it and I think you’ll like it.

Yes, even you.

More press and links: 

Fervid Filmmaking - McFarland Publishing


We Owe Mike Watt: A Review of Fervid Filmmaking |

and, of course, the official FACEBOOK PAGE



Friday, August 19, 2011


Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelly are finally free men. Eighteen years ago, they were convicted of a horrible crime none of them committed.

The mutilated bodies of three little boys were found dumped in a creek in West Memphis, Arkansas. Untrained for this “sort of thing”, the local police destroyed the crime scene, left behind their own fingerprints, shoe prints and even cigarette butts. The outrage was immediate. Just as quickly, it turned into hysteria.

Because of the nature of the crime, the speculation, the “had to be”s, erupted throughout the neighborhood. It “had to be” Satanists—who else would cut up a little boy that way? Faggot Satanists. Shouldn’t be allowed around decent folk. Obviously, it “had to be” the three weirdoes, the freaks who wore black and listened to that head-banger music.

Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelly.

The three men were respectively 18, 16 and 17 years old when the crime was committed.

Most of my friends and I were just in our 20s. We all wore black. We listened to that ‘devil’s music’ and watched ‘them slasher movies’. None of us were religious, unless you count “recovering Catholic” as a religion. None of us, despite our trappings and obsession with the morbid, were Satanists. What we were is what the WM3 were: misfits surrounded by the ignorant and the hysterical—both real and imagined. In your 20s, everyone is an uneducated asshole to be feared or mocked. From 14 until about 25, you learn backwards—you go from knowing everything to the realization that you weren’t only wrong about it all, but you can’t even fathom what the reality might be.

It happened, right there, in Arkansas. A bunch of hicks rounded up the “art fags” and tied them to a stake. But you expect that kind of shit from those banjo-playing mouth breathers down in the Bible Belt. Don’t’cha?

There was no evidence to tie them to the crime scene. Not before the cops jumped up and down all over it, not later. Not 18 years later.

The reason many of us knew of the case was due to the two documentaries, Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and Paradise Lost 2: Revelations. Those of us in film school had tenuous ties to the filmmakers, Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky. They had made another film about justice miscarriage called Brother’s Keeper, and that was mandatory viewing in our doc class. Plus, they became popular rentals from the local video stores. Because these three guys were so much like us. Or we were so much like them. It was our first glimpse at the real world. Our first taste of real moral outrage. Our first sense that “it can’t happen here” is complete and utter comfort bullshit.

“Free the West Memphis Three!” became our “Attica!” We wore t-shirts emblazoned with the young men’s mug shots. It was the cause of our generation, whatever-the-hell generation we were. (What were we? Gen-X? Did it matter?)

The West Memphis Three showed us humanity in group-form: a powder keg of pitchforks waiting to be lit, to turn into a Simpsons mob, to march down on whatever scared them most that day.

My rhetoric doesn’t come from prejudice, or, not entirely. “Them faggots” and “them freaks” were used a lot by the Arkansas neighbors in both docs. The word “God” is used a lot too. As in “didn’t have God in ‘em.” “They need to see the Wrath of God.”

We were guilty of snap judgments too. While neither doc took a definite stance, preferring to let the evidence and the people speak for themselves, it was “obvious” to us that it “had to be” John Mark Byers, the admittedly abusive (“Not overly so”) father of one of the dead boys. By his own ranting, we painted him as a psychotic at worst, bi-polar at least. He didn’t show much in the way of grief, but he definitely loved the cameras shoved in his face.

But none of us had any evidence before us either. It was just “obvious” that this dumb, slack-jawed hick “had to be” the killer. I mean, he gave the filmmakers a blood-crusted utility knife that he said had never been used. He’d had his teeth voluntarily extracted not too long after the murders, when dental impressions could be used to match the bite marks found on the little boys. He passed a polygraph but while on anti-psychotics.

What the fuck were those asshole “authorities” missing?

Eighteen years of new evidence. New theories proven and disproven. The only “real” evidence was a signed confession from Jessie Misskelly, a borderline-retarded man with a 72 I.Q. who had been questioned, alone, by police for more than four hours. With obvious gaps in the audio recordings indicating that the machine had been turned off for periods of time. While They fed him what they wanted him to say? His details never matched, no matter how many times he told the story. Because they were innocent or because he had a 72 I.Q.?

The prosecutors only had to “aw shucks” the jury, spout some “lack of God” and everyone was out for blood. The same yer-honor, Circuit Court Judge David Burnett, presided over the first trial and each subsequent hearing. The convictions were upheld each time: Baldwin and Misskelly would serve life in prison; Echols was to get the death penalty. He was, after all, the weirdest of the three. At 18 years old, he knew everything. So he smirked at the flimsy evidence during the first trial. In later ones, he never smiled. You age quicker in prison. Particularly if you’re in there for child murder.

We grew up with our eyes on their status. We continued to shout “Free the West Memphis Three!” We wore their shirts, donated to their defense, waited for another documentary. The latter is coming, soon, but now Joe and Bruce will have a new ending.
The State of Arkansas admitted that there wasn’t enough evidence to proceed with a new trial, but the three men still plead guilty. Key word: plea. They took a bargain to get out of prison. Even though the deal says they can still maintain their innocence, they’ll be on the books as child murderers for the rest of their lives. They said “We’re sorry, we’ll never kill little boys ever again, even though we didn’t really do it”, to get Damien off death row, and Jason and Jessie out of their cells. And by doing this, the Great State of Arkansas Wins. Justice has been served, but more importantly, the West Memphis Three cannot sue the state for wrongful imprisonment, cannot and will not be compensated for eighteen lost years. They cannot say that the Great State of Arkansas was wrong.

But the West Memphis Three are now free!

That’s our new battle cry and some of us are breathing a sigh of relief, but we’re all breathing fire. This isn’t justice, but it is freedom. What’s more important? It’s a long time between 20 and 40, as any of the Three can tell you. Closer to 40, you learned and relearned what the world is. It’s money. It’s finding blame. “It’s not my fault”.

Jury tampering, evidence mishandling, leaking of evidence, a prejudiced judge and jury foreman.

Three dead little boys. Three men who grew haunted behind bars, facing stuff that would make the worst episode of Oz look like Happy Fun Time.

There’s no justice to be had today. There’s the freedom that open-air brings, but that doesn’t sponge away the pain the Great State of Arkansas caused those three men. It won’t erase what they’ll be carrying around with them. They plead guilty, though the law knows, understands, supports, that they didn’t really do it. Everyone is getting what they want in this scenario, fellas. You go free and the Great State of Arkansas can finally prove to the world that we was right all along and maybe tourism will pick up a little around here. Seems to be a big gap in the 30-50 year olds visitin’.

What’s worse, the Great State of Arkansas couldn’t care less who killed those three little boys, whose lives were less than a third of the Three. Of ours.

Welcome to the outside, guys. You have a legion of supporters who, I hope desperately, won’t turn its back on you now that you’re free. You need jobs? We’ll help you out. We know you didn’t do it. You survived this long in that horrible hole. Don’t let the real world stomp you down further. Be brave. It might get harder from here.

But forgive us, U.S.A., if we’re not up to waving the American Flag today, if we’re not hugging cops or judges today.

Tomorrow we’ll mourn the still-decaying corpse of the American Judicial System. Today, we celebrate.

The West Memphis Three are Free.

Friday, July 29, 2011


The news that has all of Facebook atwitter (and all of Twitter afacebook) is that the world-famous Me will be signing at Eljay’s Books on Saturday, July 30 at Eljay’s Books in lovely and palatial Dormont. Based on past signings we’ve attended there (namely Tim Gross and the debut of his sixth book, “The Big-Ass Book of Gross Movie Reviews”), I’ll likely do a quick reading, answer questions, then sign until everyone is gone. It runs from 3pm to 6pm so if you attend, we can make that time both stretch and fly by!

So if you have been holding out for the best time to purchase my short fiction collection Phobophobia or the new novel Suicide Machine, tomorrow may well be the rainy day you’ve been yearning for (50% chance of showers, partly-cloudy in the morning).