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Arnzen's Weird Newsletter
+++ Vol. 2 #6, Feb. 27, 2004 +++
Blather. Wince. Repeat.
I was scanning the horror DVDs at the video store the other day, and after awhile, all the covers began to look the same to me. I worry that the horror film industry is falling for the same packaging mistakes that horror novels made in the 1980s: back then, every book was black with a skeleton on the cover. And it virtually killed the industry. Apparently such book buyers don't pay attention to author names, see all those skeletons on the covers and think they “already own that one.”
Nowadays almost every video case on the shelf has a fanged clown-like creature on it, wielding some sort of blade. Or otherwise there's a cluster shot of spoiled teenagers, posing in I-deserve-to-die-but-I-dare-you-to-kill-me poses. If only they would stand so close together in one group during the films – they'd be much easier for the slasher to take out in one shot.
Maybe I'm getting old, but this trend for teenage victims is getting staler than syndicated reruns of Saved by the Bell (…who probably shouldn't be. Saved that is.)
Once something's successful, the marketplace tries to clone it, banking on a “sure thing” – but the only “sure thing” that will happen is that the marketplace will bleed the concept dry, wringing every last drop it can out of its carcass. But I think I've come up with a solution to this problem. It's quite simple, really. Let's stop killing pretty boys and snotty cheerleaders. Let's start killing the old folks, instead.
That's right. I'm proposing a new subgenre: geezer gore.
Now, I know that this sounds terribly crass and ageist, but if that's true, then the filmmakers and screenwriters who perpetually cast seventeen-year-olds in the role of “decapitated bully” or “virgin warrior” are worse. They kill the same characters time after time. It's getting old, but the characters aren't. And I think they should be.
Why just kill the blondes? I want to see gray hairs in my gray matter. I'm tired of seeing kids chased around the college campus or the summer camp. I want to see blood spraying down the hallways of nursing homes and axes chopping up the card tables at bridge. I want to see flying nose hoses and hear lots of rattling bedpans. Instead of watching a supple rump trying to shimmy out of a bathroom window, I want to see the weak and ill, crawling across blood-soaked tile in open surgery gowns and sagging adult diapers.
And I want their murders to be just as ironically apt as they are in all the slasher movies. And I'm not just talking about the obvious forms of brutality, like caning. I want to see some old lady pinned down by her own walker and tortured with vicious intravenous bottles. I want to see a possessed pair of dentures taking huge bites out of old man Charley. I want to see longevity freaks in their warm-up suits and headbands choking on fistfuls of Geritol. And they'd make good villains, too. I want to see geriatric killers wielding amped-up heart attack paddles. Sexagenarian slashers with crazy coupon scissors. Viagra vampires.
Some movies kill off the parents or grandparents of the teenage cast, and while that seems like a step in the right direction, it's actually tokenism. Far more kids die than their parents in the slasher genre, even though there are twice as many progenitors than offspring. This is obviously a way to appease the rebellious kids in the audience, who wish their parents would just die already. But of course, these are supposed to be R-rated movies were talking about – films which ostensibly are only for the adults in the first place. So let's raise the bar a generation and kill the grandparents already, okay?
Sure, horror already has its fill of scary old people. Wicked witches are rarely under twenty-five. The crazy man down the block is usually a crazy OLD man. And what's a vampire if nothing but a very, very old person? The fact is that most Hollywood movie characters over marriage age are more predictable and stereotypical than “ditzy blondes” – and I know they can be used more creatively in the genre. Yet – probably because they don't look sexy enough – Hollywood runs screaming from actors over sixty. But I know damned well that the elderly can act. If memory serves, Kirk Douglas performed his final film by blinking Morse code from an Iron Lung or something. But seriously: I love films with older actors in them. The adaptation of Peter Straub's Ghost Story has one of the best middle aged casts ever – in fact, it's probably the best example of what I'd like to see more of: old timers, shaking frail in their boots, or battling to the death. But I have to turn to other genres to find more stories like them. Cocoon is one of my all time favorite SF films, and I'm not just saying that because I like to see John Wayne Gacy play the role of Alien Leader. I mean, I even loved the Jack Nicholson/Diane Keaton vehicle, Something's Gotta Give – a romantic comedy about two people in their seventies who see each other naked and then fall in love. Believe me, such full frontal (and rear) nudity would horrify any sixteen year old, any day. So why aren't we seeing this in the horror films? Where's all the geezer gore?
Now I beg of you – don't send me hate mail. I'm no spring chicken and I'm probably older than 75% of the people reading this. I might not be middle aged, but I count myself among the, well, aged. Aged enough to have seen decade after decade of horror films. And very little has changed since John Carpenter's Halloween set the slasher genre in motion: these flicks keep killing off the same dumb kids who think they're immortal. That's the whole plot of Final Destination, for example – a movie that tries to grow up but can't evade the destiny of its own marketing forces. I'm tired of it all. I mean, sure, those kids really do deserve it when they're force fed a skateboard or bashed over the head with a stereo – and I must admit that I do get a vicarious thrill out of watching the evisceration of pubescent children. It warms the cockles of my dark heart to witness the skewering of kids with hunting weapons and drill presses. But the problem is the perpetual Hollywood assumption that the only true audience for a good horror flick is an eighteen year old nerd who wants to see the people he or she hates in high school vicariously get creamed. Where will horror fans go when they grow out of this market segment? To television, to watch Elderly Fear Factor? Please.
If they're smart, they turn to the video shelf. To the classics, when kiddies in films meant something. Back in the 70s, when ratings sort of meant something, all the great adult horror films were really good. Think about how kids were represented back then: as demonic (Exorcist) or the embodiment of the devil himself (The Omen); as mutants (It's Alive), psychotic vampires (Martin), and murderous hormonal freaks (Carrie). The video vaults hold some of the greatest horror films ever produced, but I worry that all this direct-to-video crap is going to dilute the choices. Nowadays Rosemary's Baby sits right next to I Know Who You Did Last Summer Camp. Kids used to be creepy freakazoids in the horror movies, but now they're the whole damned cast and the slasher is usually some divorcee mother who's had too much Starbucks. I know our society can produce better garbage than this garbage. But the problem is that the rise of the DVD market means that these teen flicks are crowding the market, representing the whole genre to the next generation. And while it's true that horror has always reveled in teen exploitation, there's a kitsch value in those black and white schlockers, like I Was a Teenaged Dismembered Hand or The Thing from Outta My Toy Box. There's no kitsch whatsoever in the films on the DVD shelves today, like Spearing Brittany or American Die. Just bad jokes and way too many pretty people.
Sure, it's sad when a stunt BMX biker gets his head chopped off by a ceiling fan, because he never got to live past twenty and pay taxes. But it's freaking tragic when an eighty year old survives three wars, living a long life of honor and dignity, only to have her lungs yanked inside out through her tracheotomy hole by a maniac ex-smoker. Tragic, I tell you. And messy.
I have a dream. I see new titles high up in the marquee. Grammassacre. Satanic Sexagenarians from Mars. Whippersnappers. Haunted House of Infirmary. Attack of the Elderleeches. Werewolves in Wheelchairs. Retiree Resurrection. The Exlaxorcist. Leatherface II: The True Story.
Let's quit clowning around with the youth in some perverse playland. (That goes for you, too, Mr. Jackson). Let's inject more originality into our stories. Let's allow the genre to age with grace. Horror cinema is far too young to die such a silly death. The actual audience members who sat in the theaters of the original horror blockbusters from the 1930s – Dracula and Frankenstein – are a population that's rapidly dwindling. Let's do it for them, before it's too late.
[Postscript: The elderly deserve their own horror magazine, too. Here's one I recommend:
The heading in the e-mail edition of Goreletter 2.5 incorrectly placed the year as 2003. For those of you who haven't been paying attention, New Year's is long over. (I'm talking to myself here). Please archive 2.5 accordingly. However, the grace period for messing up checks does not end until the Federal Tax deadline. So bounce away!
Most Popular Courses at Grotesque U.
Psychology of Disgust
Anatomy for Butchers
If you like getting your fiction in tiny doses, then you'll enjoy the book, Cigar Box Faust and Other Miniatures, by multi-award winning science fiction writer Michael Swanwick. If you're a science fiction fan with a taste for humor, you'll really adore it. With this fine collection of microfiction, Swanwick proves the writer's dictum that “less is more.” Even better than the mini-stories that are routinely posted for free on the author's “Periodic Table of Science Fiction” at SciFi.com [
scifi.com/scifiction/periodictable.html ], the seventy or so hypershort stories in this book (most under three paragraphs) are a testament to Swanwick's imaginative genius. Clocking in at less than 100 pages, the book is indeed a collection of “miniatures” that are a joy to savor. Though mostly aimed at fans of science fiction, readers of horror and literary experimentalism will also enjoy sampling the creative morsels in this book quite a bit.
Swanwick structures Cigar Box Faust by organizing the many short pieces into various thematic clusters, logical series, or variations on a theme – patterns he likely used to generate the microscopic tales themselves. The “whimsies” he wrote while strolling through a Picasso exhibit appear here as a series of “Eleven Still-Lifes” which have Picasso doing nutty things like making cubist monsters or serving up butchered alien heads at a dinner table. Using the alphabet to launch a series of 26 musings, he generates “An Abecedary of the Imagination” which features such mini-horror pieces as “J is for Jack” (in which Jack the Ripper somehow manages to get the moral upper hand) and “L is for Lucky Strikes” (the brand of cigarettes which just so happen to be the most sought after commodity in hell). Other clusters in the book have more of a traditional SF focus: there's a series of tales enumerating the bodies in the solar system (“Archaic Planets”), a short-short litany of literary criticism on Phillip K. Dick (“Eight Takes on Kindred Themes”), and parodic exchanges with the editors of Asimov's and Fantasy & Science Fiction magazines (“Letters to the Editor” and “The Madness of Gordon Van Gelder”). These latter two speak to the book's primary weakness – the reliance on 'in jokes' and allusions to SF culture that only die hard Swanwick fans and other SF writers will be able to fully appreciate. Nonetheless, this book is a gift to his fans, so it's entirely appropriate. Swanwick keeps his humor and imagination in the foreground, and the amount of fun that this author is having with the form is contagious enough to keep the miniatures from descending into trivial minutia.
Indeed, the series of powerful short-shorts called “Writing in My Sleep” more than makes up for any self-indulgency in the collection. Here Swanwick literally transcribes his “dreamwork”…not in the way you might jot in a dream journal, but in the way a writer might actually compose a manuscript while dreaming. Here he actually wrote those manuscripts down, remaining faithful to the work of his unconscious. And Swanwick's unconscious writes very good flash fiction. My favorite in the series is a six-paragraph story called “Critics,” in which he writes of a planet where leeches literally parasite writers and artists to death in a sycophantic hell which refers none too subtly back to its title.
The book's titular story, “Cigar Box Faust,” is also a work of pure genius. It's a revision of the famous Goethe drama – written as though it were an instruction manual for a little mini-reenactment of “Faust” in a poor man's puppet theater, using a cigar, a book of matches, and so forth. (Mephistopheles is the cigar cutter, of course). It's the script of a cute performance that Swanwick has actually put on at late night convention parties. There are similar experiments in this book – from the series of “Brief Essays” – which are humorous and philosophical musings (in one of them, Swanwick claims to have been the first writer to find a rhyme for “Orange” that actually fits into a poem; in another, he roasts a bevy of speculative fiction writers by mixing their names with their own famous book titles, like “The Grotesque Patrick McGrath” and “The Man Who Melted Jack Dann”). Altogether, Cigar Box Faust is ingeniously witty, testifying to both the brilliance of its creator and the power of his brevity. Pardon the cliche, but these miniatures – just like the best candies – are short and sweet. Recommended reading, whether in tiny bites or in one big gulp.
Cigar Box Faust and Other Miniatures by Michael Swanwick. Tachyon Publications. Trade paperback. Color Cover by Freddie Baer. 94 pp. ISBN 1-892391-07-4. $14.95. http://www.tachyonpublications.com Author's Home Page: http://www.michaelswanwick.com/
For your next movie night, rent:
To Catch a Killer (1992)
Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)
Your Last Words
You've been lacerated twenty times by the blade. The killer takes your fingertip with him for safe keeping. But little does he know that you're not dead yet. You dip the quill of your gored fingertip into the inkwell of your own blood, conveniently puddling on the kitchen floor beside your intestines. You write the name of your murderer on the tiles. It's….
Bloody Finger Mail!
My last words:
[Requires the Flash MX player, a plug-in which will auto-install in your web browser if you don't have it already.]
+ Choke someone by force feeding them something in a poetically just way.
+ Discover a tentacled monstrosity in a bathroom or a kitchen.
+ Perform an amateur alien autopsy.
Instigation is a WEEKLY department in Hellnotes newsletter: http://www.hellnotes.com
If you publish something instigated by this department, let me know at email@example.com and I'll mention it here! Or if you're bold (and willing to forfeit electronic rights), post your response to a prompt at the new Goreletter weblog by clicking on the word “comments” underneath the “Instigation” section at:
For example, you can read Star C. Foster's “Shake Well Before Opening” here:
Tina's Piercing Fetish
His tribal tattoos really smolder, as colorful
as his cobalt and charcoal eyes, but
it's really Robert's piercings she likes best.
The rod popped through the septum
of his puck nose, the cute pin in his chin,
the long needle in his tasty tongue.
It's the latter that's her favorite,
because it keeps him quiet.
Sure, he spits more than he used to,
but he's still quite a hottie, and that's
all to be expected when she seasons
the chunks of him on her shish-ka-bob.
Both this strange newsletter (The Goreletter) and my poetry chapbook from Fairwood Press last October (Gorelets: Unpleasant Poems) have received enough recommendations to appear on the “preliminary ballot” for the Bram Stoker Award (in Alternative Forms and Poetry, respectively). Cliche or not, it really is an honor to be recognized. It tells me I'm doing something right. Now it's up to the professional members of the Horror Writers Association to whittle down their favorites through two rounds of voting. The competition is fiercer than a mongoose pit filled with snapping turtles. Wish me luck. And if you're an HWA member, well, now's your chance to say you actually voted for Gore in 2004!
+++A DECADE OF DECADENCE, DWINDLING
The leatherbound and/or hardcover editions of my novel, Grave Markings: The Tenth Anniversary Edition, are probably sold out by now, but there still might be a copy or two left if you write Delirium Books NOW with your inquiry. See http://www.deliriumbooks.com/ for details asap.
+++100 JOLTS UPDATE
I have received advanced pressings of my upcoming collection, 100 Jolts: Shockingly Short Stories. Let me tell you – Raw Dog Screaming Press has done a superb job with this title. The color cover by Matt Sesow is a knock-out. It received a rollicking review in FlashFictionFlash newsletter this month (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/FlashFictionFlash/). I gave my first 'official' reading from the book at PARSEC (a science fiction group in Pittsburgh) last week, and though I feared that my writing would be too dark for the average SF fan, they actually broke out in bellylaughs and were eager to discuss the experimental approaches I took to the short form. I hope you will enjoy it, too. The book will not officially be in print until a month from now, but it's available for ordering NOW at your favorite bookstore online (any brick-and-mortor store can acquire it for you, too). So use that Barnes and Noble gift card or log in to Amazon.Com and crank up the joltage to 100!
And since you're a loyal fan and all, reading this long-winded and bizarre little newsletter so closely, here's a little tip for you:
AllDirect.Com is offering 100 Jolts for $8.03, which is the cheapest I've seen it anywhere! alldirect.com/book.asp?isbn=0974503126 But if you want an autographed copy, do yourself a favor and pick it up at World Horror Convention next month where I'll customize it for you, or order it now through shocklines.com here: store.yahoo.net/shocklines/100jobymiaar.html
I'll actually be performing live in Phoenix, Arizona with a fiction reading and more for the 2004 World Horror Convention April 8th-10th (Easter weekend). I really like to ham it up at these things. Raw Dog Screaming Press is planning a launch party that features 100 Jolts; the publisher of Freakcidents, Shocklines, is throwing a party, too! Two parties? I bet there will be even more than that. I think I'm going to enjoy this convention very much. Hope to see you there, even if I'm bleary-eyed. Other upcoming conferences I'm planning to attend in 2004 include the upcoming International Conference of the Fantastic (3/25-7, Ft. Lauderdale) and Horrorfind (8/15-17, Baltimore). And I'm also planning lots of local readings and signings in Western PA to celebrate the release of 100 Jolts. Just keep an eye on my weblog for detailed information.
whc2004.org | iafa.org | http://www.horrorfindweekend.com
I've acquired a batch of my chapbook – Michael Arnzen's Dying – a quirky little poetic parody of Martha Stewart's Living. Ed Bryant applauded this book in Locus magazine last year, writing: ““Arnzen's a crackerjack poet of the dark fantastic…[his poetry] whipsaws the reader from giggling to guffawing to cringing, often all on the same page.” If you'd like to get your hands on a signed copy of this crazy collectable, it would be “a good thing.” Or maybe a very bad thing. Or, perhaps just a very, very sick thing. To get yours, signed, postage paid, just send me $8 via PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org. Limited to my supply on hand. If you want to order without using online services, you must e-mail me first to make arrangements (and to see if I have any copies left!). Don't worry – I'm not sending any of the proceeds to Martha's attorneys.
No, it's not a new freakadelic denture adhesive paste in day-glo colors. As I've reported before, Freakcidents: A Surrealist Sideshow is a knock-out poetry book coming from Shocklines Press in March/April in a limited “remarqued” hardcover and standard trade edition. The “remarqued” edition is not only a signed collectable hardcover, but it gets customized by the book's artist, the eponymous GAK – who is redesigning the cover for the book (that means it will be a little different than the b/w version you may have already seen). In his review at feoamante.com, Mikey Huyck called Freakcidents “one of the most bizarre collections of anything I've ever pawed through.” ( http://www.feoamante.com/Stories/Reviews/DEF/Freakcid.html ) Wanna paw through it yourself? Preorder the mutancy here:
If you've never visited the small press catalogue at Project Pulp, you've missed out on a wonderful resource for fantasy, science-fiction, horror, music and underground publishing. They've got discounted copies of a number of small magazines and anthologies I've appeared in. In fact, my poetry book, Gorelets, is #5 on their “Most Overlooked Titles” charts…not sure what that means, but I like being charted. Anyway, check out Project Pulp…I'm sure you'll find something good to read there, whether for yourself or as a gift to others. Creative searches recommended, but if you can't make up your mind, consider Dark Animus, Sick: An Anthology of Illness, Yellow Bat Review or the latest issue of Talebones magazine, all of which I've contributed to.
BONUS FREAKSHOW EDITION!
To celebrate the pending publication of my twisted poetry book, Freakcidents, available in a collectable edition later this season from Shocklines Press, I thought it only fitting that I add a list of links to get you in the mood by giving you a little internet sideshow tour. So step right up and cover your eyes….
Andi Olsen's Freaknest
Coney Island Side Show
Freakshow in my Pocket
Monstrous.Com's Freaks Central
Ratt's Freeq Show
Ripley's Believe it or Not
Ses Carny's Painful Sideshow
Weekly World News
Freak + Accidents = Freakcidents
I keep telling you: It actually pays to scroll this far down.
NEW HELLNOTES OFFER
Because you subscribe to The Goreletter, you can get a one year's subscription to the e-mail version of Hellnotes – the Insider's Guide to the Horror Industry – for just $18. That's FIVE BUCKS OFF the regular rate! Use the code GORELETS in your order. You can subscribe via Paypal (payable to JRohrig@aol.com); otherwise, check their home page for more information. If you like the “Instigation” prompts, now's your chance to get them every week at a discount! http://www.hellnotes.com
FREAK OUT WITH SHOCKLINES
Couldn't get enough of the sideshow tour in this issue of The Goreletter? Want more “freaking” coupons? Until April 1st, Shocklines.com is offering you guys $3.00 (or 20%) off the fantastic collection of sideshow shockers, Freaks, Geeks and Other Sideshow Floozies (edited by Tina Jens and John Weagly)! Just enter the promotional code GOREGEEK3 when you check out online. This book is a lot of fun, featuring stories by Mark McLaughlin, Wayne Allen Sallee, Larry Santoro, Weston Ochse, and more! You'll meet “Chicken Girls” and “Ladies with Rats for Hands” and other twisted dark freaks.
Fictionwise.com – the web's best sci-fi and horror e-book seller – maintains a special 15% off page for Goreletter subscribers, which is updated weekly. This week features e-book treasures by talents like Yvonne Navarro, David Langford, Hertzen Chimera, and Del Stone, Jr. Do a search for economical Arnzen titles while you're there!
Fairwood Press is offering an exclusive discount to Goreletter subscribers. You can get a $1.50 off the standard edition of my shiny new chapbook, Gorelets: Unpleasant Poems – or $3 off Gorelets with the purchase of any other title! To get the discount, browse around Fairwood's website and when you have your picks, PayPal your payment to publisher Patrick Swenson at email@example.com and include the codeword “GoreWood” in your order. Note that Fairwood Press' onine shopping cart will NOT work for this discount and that it doesn't count for the Lettered Edition of the book. http://www.fairwoodpress.com
DARK ANIMUS DEAL
Mention “The Arnzen Special” to publisher James Cain when you subscribe to Dark Animus magazine, and you'll get a 5 issue subscription for a 4 issue price. Subscriptions costs $25 US and can be paid via PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org. This weird Aussie mag has just released a special “puppet” issue that's sure to creep you out…and a new writing award with a prize that's wonderfully twisted! http://www.darkanimus.com/
Asmoday Enterprises has kindly extended their offer: Get 10% of the writer's submission tracking software, WriteAgain! Just tell Asmoday that you heard about it from The Goreletter when you register to get your discount. http://www.asmoday.com/
All material in The Goreletter is © 2004 Michael A. Arnzen, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved. Permission is granted to forward the entire contents as a whole, without alterations or excisions. Direct links to articles in the archives or the weblog are permitted and encouraged. For reprint permissions of individual pieces, please contact email@example.com.
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The Suspense is Killing Me
“Death is like an arrow that is already in flight, and your life lasts only until it reaches you.” – Georg Hermes (died 1831)
* Due to the temporary nature of internet URLs, some websites mentioned in back issues of the Goreletter may no longer be live, or may also point to unscrupulous web servers. I will denote these with overstrikes as I discover them, but if you encounter a dead, changed or unscrupulous link, please feel free to inform me.
* “Boo Coupons” are expired in all but the current issue.
* If you are seeking a particular book by Arnzen mentioned in The Goreletter, try http://gorelets.com/books/
* Arnzen's blog is now located at http://gorelets.com/blog/ Visit it for breaking news and extras not appearing in The Goreletter.
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