Echoes From the Aeons

J.G. Ballard was a good buddy of Michael Moorcock and a regular contributor to New Worlds even before Moorcock took over the editorship of that organ, and as such his early writing career established him as a cornerstone of British New Wave science fiction. Between Moorcock’s childhood in a bombed-out London and Ballard’s stint in a Japanese prison camp, both men’s lives saw them emerging from the traumas of the Second World War to confront the future with, perhaps, a little more caution than the more gung-ho visions of most American SF authors of their generation.

J.G. Ballard’s novels have ranged from straight-ahead postapocalyptic fiction to William Burroughs-esque fever dreams to bizarre explorations of imaginary fetishes to satirical takedowns of modern excess, but in his early career his short stories were as important as his novels, so I’ve decided to start an exploration of his short fiction. Fortunately for me, the vast majority of it is collected in his Complete Short Stories, which I am the happy owner of a 2001 edition of.

Despite the title it is not quite complete – it skips over his “surgical fictions” which just consisted of surgical reports with celebrity’s names substituted in for the names of the patients, some juvenilia, a couple of brief and not particularly notable pieces penned after The Complete Short Fiction was published, pieces later expanded into full novels, and Journey Across a Crater, an attempt to address the ideas of Crash in the “condensed novel” style Ballard infamously used in The Atrocity Exhibition which Ballard later declared didn’t really work. I don’t think we lose anything if we skip those, however. I am also going to skip over the stories which later became integral parts of The Atrocity Exhibition, since whether that is a novel or a collection of connected stories is a debate in its own right which I’ll address if and when I get around to reviewing it. (Indeed, it’s notable that only two of them appear in the Complete Short Stories).

I am also going to apply a bit of structure to the review process. Rather than trying to consume the entire Complete Short Stories at once, I am going to address it by covering the subsets of the stories in question that appear in each of Ballard’s major UK anthologies of his work. Happily, the final versions of these anthologies (some of them had stories removed and added and titles tweaks over their publication history) yield a collection of Ballard’s stories in which no stories are redundantly covered in two anthologies at once, so by taking each of those anthologies in turn I should cover the vast majority of the collection, and also each article will be a more or less complete review of the smaller anthology in question, which may benefit those of you who don’t want to dive in with the whole Complete Short Stories but would prefer to have thoughts on smaller, more digestible delivery mechanisms for Ballard fiction. I will save for the end of this series a consideration of the tales in the Complete Short Stories which hadn’t previously been collected in a Ballard anthology – three brief 1992 pieces plus The Recognition, his contribution to Dangerous Visions.

The Voices of Time is a Ballard anthology with a complicated publishing history. A collection called The Voices of Time was released in the US in 1962 as the first anthology of Ballard’s works to be published; the contents of that collection overlap with this one but are not the same. The UK version of The Voices of Time was Ballard’s first UK collection, and was released in 1963 under the title of The 4-Dimensional Nightmare.

A 1974 edition revised the collection, removing two stories – Prima Belladonna and Studio 5, the Stars – belonging to the Vermilion Sands setting, since those stories were being anthologised in a single book (called, unsurprisingly, Vermilion Sands), and substituting in two other stories, The Overloaded Man and Thirteen to Centaurus. All subsequent releases of the collection have used this revised set of contents, and from 1984 onwards have used the title The Voices of Time, since The 4-Dimensional Nightmare probably sounds a bit more pulpy and sensational than Ballard’s writing actually is.

Continue reading “Echoes From the Aeons”

PC Pick-and-Mix 2: The Obra Dinn’s Returned and Star Wars Has Mustered Dark Forces? Play It Again, Bard…

I like videogames and I like writing reviews, but sometimes I don’t have deep enough thoughts on the latter to write particularly deep examples of the former. Time for another roundup of PC games I’ve been digging lately. This time, I’ll look at a spooky insurance mystery rendered in gorgeous 1-bit graphics, a classic Star Wars first-person shooter, and a CRPG classic given a new lick of paint.

Return of the Obra Dinn

It is the early 19th Century; the Obra Dinn, a ship that had gone missing somewhere off the coast of West Africa has finally sailed into port – with all sixty of its crew and passengers dead or missing. The ship had been insured by the East India Company, and you are the insurance investigator sent to figure out what happened. It’s a tough job – but you are helped by two items. The first is a logbook containing all the names and roles of the people who were on the ship, and some sketches of life onboard ship which show most of their faces (the obvious exception being the shipboard artist who made the sketches).

Your second helpful bit of kit is the Memento Mortem, provided by the same party who was able to send through the logbook; this is a strange pocketwatch which, when used in the proximity of a corpse (or a place where a corpse has been – indicated, once you’ve discovered it, by the fuzzy form of the body in question), allows you to enter and explore a static snapshot of the immediate surroundings in the moment the relevant person died. Your task is to put names to all of the faces, and specify how each and every individual onboard ship died – giving the exact cause of death and, where the death was not due to ill health or accident, the party responsible.

Continue reading “PC Pick-and-Mix 2: The Obra Dinn’s Returned and Star Wars Has Mustered Dark Forces? Play It Again, Bard…”

Bye Bye, Black Alchemist

The story so far: after being part of the Parasearch crew he co-led with Graham Phillips, who were responsible for getting the whole “psychic questing” thing kicked off – as chronicled in Phillips and Martin Keatman’s books The Green Stone and The Eye of Fire – Andrew Collins caused a bit of a stir of his own when he put out The Black Alchemist and The Seventh Sword, his own accounts of psychic questing exploits.

The Seventh Sword overlapped to an extent with matters discussed in The Green Stone, but it was The Black Alchemist which really made waves. Bearing delightfully sacrilegious cover art and claiming to reveal the secret behind the Great Storm of 1987, it featured Andrew and his psychic colleague Bernard experiencing a series of psychic run-ins with the titular Black Alchemist – supposedly a nefarious occultist who performed dodgy rituals in sacred sites with the intent of making corrupt use of the British ley line network. Despite never actually confronting the Black Alchemist in the flesh, Collins and Bernard purportedly had repeated psychic clashes with the chap as they tried to disrupt his evil works.

As with much psychic questing stuff, it was almost certainly the result of either deliberate hoaxing or a deliberate desire to believe leading to an indulgence of apophenia, Bernard and Andrew yes-anding each other into believing they were tangling with a real life Dennis Wheatley villain and his coterie of co-conspirators. Still, it was a fun story to entertain even if you didn’t actually believe it, which probably helped the book sell well – a little attention-grabbing controversy from evangelical Christian quarters objecting to the book on moral grounds didn’t hurt. A more direct sequel than The Seventh Sword was probably inevitable.

That sequel was 1993’s The Second Coming. This opens with they disruption of one of the Black Alchemist’s grand plans by Andrew and his colleagues when they stand on top of a hill and yes-and each other into thinking that they are under assault from astral wolves. If this incident sounds familiar, it might be because I mention it in my review of The Black Alchemist – for in the 2015 revision of that book, it’s tacked onto the end to provide a somewhat more satisfying conclusion than was provided in the original version, which just sort of ceases rather abruptly without really coming to any sort of conclusion.

Indeed, in the epilogue of The Second Coming Collins notes that the most common bit of feedback he received about The Black Alchemist was “shame about the ending”. He argues that this is a consequence of the book being an account of real events which were still kind of ongoing as the book was being finished, and which didn’t really offer a nice neat confrontation with the big bad, but for this go-around – covering developments in the case from 1988 to 1991 – he’s selected as a stopping-point an incident at Whitby, since that seemed to be suitably dramatic.

That incident, dear readers, was when Andrew Collins and his friends defeated Dracula.

Continue reading “Bye Bye, Black Alchemist”

As the Worm Turns

Demonland is a mighty realm ruled by boisterous, heroic lords – Lord Juss is their leader, closely aided and advised by his brothers Lord Spitfire and Goldry Bluszco and his cousin Brandoch Daha. Their main foes and competitors within the politics of their fantastic world is Witchland, ruled over at the start of our story by King Gorice XI.

The realms are currently enjoying a period of peace, after the threat of the dire, cannibalistic Ghouls has been finally ended in a war of total extermination led by Demonland. Now Witchland has made bold moves, sending an ambassador to demand that Demonland bend the knee and acknowledge King Gorice as its overlord. Naturally, the manly lords of Demonland intend to do no such thing, and so they do the rational thing and challenge Gorice to a wrestling match. After a couple of rounds, Goldry delivers a sick-ass piledriver to Gorice XI, killing him stone dead.

Ah, but the Kings of Witchland wear on their finger a ring in the likeness of the Worm Ouroboros; in legend it is hinted that there is but one King of Witchland, an eternal Gorice, who takes on different qualities as he migrates from body to body as his preceding incarnations die. The new King, Gorice XII, is less of a grappler and more of a necromancer, and raises dire magics against the Demons in revenge. With Goldry Bluszco spirited away and their forces in disarray, can the Demons mount a fightback? And if they do, will it be a final end, or will it just be one more turn of the cycle of time symbolised by The Worm Ouroboros?

Continue reading “As the Worm Turns”

Jodorowsky: From Surrealism To Psychomagic

Alejandro Jodorowsky has enjoyed something of a career renaissance in cinema lately, mostly thanks to the Jodorowsky’s Dune documentary that related how his attempt to film Dune went totally off the rails. After becoming a cult figure in the 1970s, Jodorowsky’s career hit a speed bump after his Dune project collapsed, and he had dropped out of directing entirely from 1990 to 2015, but since then he has made three new films, each with a hefty dose of autobiography.

For a long time his work was difficult to get – especially El Topo and The Holy Mountain, the two 1970s works which really put him on the map and got him attached to the Dune project in the first place. Arrow Video have now stepped in and produced a boxed set of blu-rays providing a useful cross-section of his work: his debut feature Fando y Lis, El TopoThe Holy Mountain, and his latest release – Psychomagic, a documentary about his homebrewed style of art therapy that he has been practicing in recent years.

I’m going to be honest: over the course of watching these movies I have come to seriously dislike Jodorowsky and his work. He clearly takes a lot of inspiration from the Surrealists, but I think he increasingly uses the tools of Surrealism for the sake of shameless self-promotion and creating this Messianic aura around himself. In addition, in relation to El Topo in particular there is furious controversy around his claim that he actually raped one of the participants in the film. I will cover that in more detail when we get to that, so consider this a content warning.

Fando y Lis

The Final War has come and gone and all the cities are in ruins. Well, maybe not all. When he was young, Fando (Sergio Kleiner, or Vincente Moore when appearing as a child) learned of the hidden city of Tar from his father (Rafael Corkidi). If he could just find Tar, he’d have eternal happiness – and his lover, Lis (Diana Mariscal, or Elizabeth Moore when shown as a child), would both have eternal happiness and be cured of her paraplegia.

So off they trek across the blasted wasteland, Lis sat on a trolley as Fando totes her along. As they go, they have various encounters – real or imagined – with various figures of a largely symbolic or metaphorical nature, and bit by bit we as audience members find more and more reason to worry about the duo’s relationship. It doesn’t seem as idyllic and healthy as it seemed to at the start of their quest. Fando keeps wandering off – despite the fact that this almost never ends well for him – and increasingly gaslights and lies to Lis. Eventually he does something barbaric and irreversible. Maybe there really is a city of Tar out there – but will it take in someone who’s been as senselessly cruel as Fando?

Continue reading “Jodorowsky: From Surrealism To Psychomagic”

The Day Mr. Dick Fell Out of His Tree

Over eight years ago, back when I was posting on Ferretbrain instead of here, I reviewed Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis – the edited compilation of his personal spiritual/philosophical diary/workbook/manifesto as worked on for the last years of his life. After people gave positive feedback for that and expressed an interest in more Dick, I began my glacial series of Dick reviews.

Beginning with his early writing, I then explored his refinement of his short story writing in 1953, leading into his mid-1950s shift from concentrating on short stories to primarily writing novels. This led into a late 1950s period dominated by failed attempt at writing mainstream novels, with Time Out of Joint a rare SF diamond in the rough from that era. Then, in the early 1960s, the runaway success of The Man In the High Castle prompted Dick to abandon mainstream writing again and to start producing his most celebrated science fiction novels.

The thing is, science fiction didn’t pay well back then, so to pay the bills Dick needed to turn out a lot of product. He turned to amphetamines to fuel the process, and submitted an explosion of material in 1963. He was similarly prolific in 1964, and even though he scaled back his pace in 1965-1966 he was still producing an extraordinary amount of work.

Something had to give – especially given his tenuous mental health and the mayhem that was happening in his personal life – and by the late 1960s and early 1970s Dick would be in freefall. His flow of writing was drastically curtailed as his drug use – and the community of drug users around Dick – finally made his life too chaotic to meaningfully work, and a break-in of his home, yet another marital disintegration, and a suicide attempt in Vancouver followed by a stint in a Synanon-affiliated clinic preceded his final migration to Orange County. (Some – including Dick himself – have noted how appropriate it is that a writer known for his exploration of fake and artificial worlds should have ended up living so close to Disneyland.)

What happened next is legendary, in part because of Dick’s role in recording and promoting that legend. In February of 1974, Dick was recovering from a wisdom tooth extraction, and answered the door to accept a delivery of painkillers. In a brief exchange, he asked the pretty, dark-haired delivery girl (yes, Dick very much had a type) about the fish-shaped necklace she was wearing, and she explained that it was a symbol used by the early Christians. Sunlight glinted off it; a pink light was reflected into Dick’s eye.

Under normal circumstances, that would be it.

However, that’s not how it happened with Dick. Instead, the pink light kicked off what was either a significant paranormal or spiritual incident or a major neurological freakout. Dick felt that the light had dumped a mass of information in his mind in an instant, and for the coming month would experience intense visions, a sense of another mind existing in his body, an impression that all time since the first century AD was an illusion, and a conviction that he actually a covert Christian working to destroy Roman persecution. He also became convinced that something was badly wrong with his infant son Christopher; when Dick and his then-wife Tessa took Christopher to hospital, he was diagnosed with an inguinal hernia which needed urgent intervention. Dick would occasionally receive instructions or reassurance in his mind, typically expressed in the calm, neutral, HAL-like tones of what he called “the AI Voice”.

Dick attributed this information – and a range of other phenomena, which would continue intermittently well after the February and March 1974 peak of the incident – to the beam, and began his Exegesis as a process of thinking through on paper what had happened to him, what it might mean, and what broader conclusions about the nature of reality could be drawn from it. Almost all of his work – essays, speeches, short stories, and novels – written after 2-3-74 either directly deals with the insights he believed he gained during the experience or at the very least weaves in strong allusions to it.

This would continue more or less until his death in March 1982, so to put this in context: imagine if, right from my 2012 review of the Exegesis to this point, rather than producing the varied articles on here and on my other blogs I’d just been solely writing about Dick, and imagine further than a lot of my writing about Dick would involve going back to the same material and coming back with completely different takes on it, so for instance one week I put out the version of my article on his late 1950s work where I shit all over his mainstream novels and regard Time Out of Joint as the lone oasis in that particular desert and the next week I put out a different version where I regard the mainstream novels as the truly important part of his writing. That would reflect both the intensity of concentration Dick applied to 2-3-74 and also the sheer variety of angles he tried to analyse it from.

That being the case, it is easy to see 2-3-74 as a unique, life-changing experience for Dick, and certainly that’s how he tended to think of it. However, I think it would be too simplistic to interpret it that way. For one thing, it isn’t even the first time that Dick had visions or felt that information was being fed into his mind. There was his late 1960s breakdown where he felt is daughter Isa had become an inhuman thing. There was the time in 1963 when he was out strolling to the little shack he used to write in when the sky transformed into a terrifying metal face, which he would later adopt as the face of the maltheistic entity in The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, or another incident where he described seeing a sort of tear or rip passing across the sky.

Perhaps most significantly, in the Exegesis Dick makes passing mention to having heard the AI Voice giving him the answers during a high school physics exam in 1947. This is, of course, Dick writing after 2-3-74, so the chances of him reframing past incidents in his life through the lens of that are high. Nonetheless, the fact remains that throughout his life Dick seems to have experienced incidents which are at least similar enough to important elements of 2-3-74 that he could regard them as forerunners to it after the fact.

In this case, 2-3-74 is not so much a unique and unprecedented incident in Dick’s life, so much as it is the most significant of a series of such experiences. It certainly didn’t represent an abrupt end to Dick’s previous worldview and way of life; many of his philosophical preoccupations, unfortunate biases, and recurring problems continued after it.

The major change in Dick’s life arising from 2-3-74 is the way he was fixated on it to an extent he doesn’t appear to have been fixated on previous incidents. Whilst it’s entirely possible that Dick had other philosophical diaries that have either not survived or not been recognised as precursors to the Exegesis, Dick would take up 2-3-74 as a primary focus of his writing for an extended period of time. Of course, he’d had other long-standing themes and ideas he’d been exploring in his fiction – his questioning of reality, humanity, and artificiality went back to the 1950s. But 2-3-74 set all of this into a pattern that would be adhered to for his last eight years of work.

Over the course of this series of articles I have kept half an eye on the details of Philip K. Dick’s life, because autobiographical elements bled into a lot of his work and the texts lose something when prised away from that context. This approach becomes even more significant in this last phase of his writing, when autobiographical elements would become even more prominent, to the extent that several books from the era verge on fictionalised memoirs. The first the public would see of this approach, and of the 2-3-74 material, would not be the much-celebrated VALIS trilogy, but A Scanner Darkly.

Continue reading “The Day Mr. Dick Fell Out of His Tree”

Rediscovering Familiar Things In Middle-Earth

When I want to take in some Lord of the Rings I tend not to go back to the original book or the movies – dipping into the BBC Radio adaptation is my preferred way, and I remain of the opinion that the radio series might be the best adaptation of the story ever. But every so often I get around to rereading the original books, and that time has come again. The last time was about ten or fifteen years ago, hot on the heels of me first tackling the Silmarillion, and I found that it greatly improved the experience, so let’s see how that goes this time around. This won’t be a full-blown review of these books – there’s little point in contributing further reviews at this point – so much as a chronicle of my thoughts and impressions on this readthrough.

The Hobbit

One thing that’s quite notable about The Lord of the Rings is the stylistic shift it undergoes from the whimsical, almost fairytale-adjacent style of its earliest sections through to the nigh-Beowulf epic style of its late portions; something I’d forgotten about The Hobbit is that it does largely the same thing, and somewhat more smoothly. Endearing, funny fairytale stuff where Bilbo and the dwarves get out of trouble largely through luck or quick wits give way to grimmer fare as the story goes on, and if it never quite gets as Wagnerian as Lord of the Rings, it still gets a good chunk of the way there.

This sets up problems later for The Fellowship of the Ring, where Tolkien starts out almost reverting to the early fairytale tones of the first parts of The Hobbit but doesn’t quite – probably quite wisely realising that readers coming direct from The Hobbit would revolt at that. This does lead to some tonally odd bits like the conversation between Frodo and Gandalf at Bag End about the Ring and its history, which is a sudden injection of material somewhat darker and more steeped in deep worldbuilding lore than the material around it.

Continue reading “Rediscovering Familiar Things In Middle-Earth”

Bad Dreams, Folk Curses, and Creepy Kids From a Forgotten USA

Arrow Video certainly haven’t been hasty in releasing the second boxed set in their American Horror Project series. Like the first box, it’s a set of three largely overlooked US horror movies from the 1970s – representatives of a strata of American indie horror cinema which more famous releases like The Last House On the Left or The Texas Chain Saw Massacre represent the tip of the iceberg of. It took 3 years after the release of the first one for the second box to emerge  – was it worth the wait? Let’s see…

Dream No Evil

Grace MacDonald (played as an adult by Brooke Mills, as a child by Vicki Schreck) grew up in an orphanage, but was tormented by overwhelming dreams that her father was going to come and take her out of there. It never happens; instead, she is adopted by the Bundy family, who make their living in travelling preacher game, and in that family she grows to adulthood, though never quite letting go of the search for her father.

We catch up with Grace after the death of Ma and Pa Bundy; one of her adoptive brothers, Jessie (Michael Pataki), has inherited the mantle of preacher and has reduced the show into a tawdry circus-esque act – a tent revival too crummy to afford an actual tent, in which Grace performs a high-dive act as part of the show. Her other adoptive brother, Patrick (Paul Prokop), has gone off to medical school, and she’s gotten engaged to him – which, whilst not incest in a purely biological sense, is kind of creepy in its own right.

For his part, now that he’s out in the wider world and not in the insular world of the travelling revival, Patrick gradually finds his attachment to Grace is fading and he’s falling for Shirley (Donna Anders), a fellow medical student. When Grace heads out after her act one night to chase up a lead on her father in the small town she and Jessie are performing in, what she finds is a strange hotel which turns a blind eye to the local undertaker/pimp (Marc Lawrence) bringing prostitutes around to cheer up the residents. The undertaker mentions that he knows Grace’s father, Timothy MacDonald (Edmond O’Brien), that he died just yesterday, and if she wishes Grace can swing by and see the body. Then the body gets up off the slab and kills the undertaker…

We then catch up with Grace and Timothy as they settle into a new existence in a lovely big farmhouse on a delightful ranch, with a pretty horse called Sultan. Wait, what? Where did either of them get the means to acquire this place? Why does the place flip between being beautifully well-maintained and horribly dilapidated? And why does Timothy keep losing his temper and killing people?

Continue reading “Bad Dreams, Folk Curses, and Creepy Kids From a Forgotten USA”

Come Back Pazuzu, All Is Forgiven

You have to hand it to the Italian movie industry: they certainly made a lax trademark regime work for them when it comes to producing knock-off sequels. From Jaws to The Terminator to Alien, Hollywood hit after Hollywood hit would find itself rehashed by unscrupulous Italian B-movie studios in the 1980s. I’ve previously outlined how Dawn of the Dead – known as Zombi for the Italian release – spawned an actually pretty good Lucio Fulci followup before the Zombi series got into diminishing returns, and how a totally absurd number of movies got released as Zombi sequels on the sly regardless of anyone’s original intentions.

A smaller-scale but no less bizarre franchise-which-isn’t-a-franchise is the La Casa series. La Casa, you see, was the Italian title for The Evil Dead, and naturally La Casa 2 was Evil Dead 2. This inspired Joe D’Amato to commission an unofficial La Casa 3; directed by the highly variable Umberto Lenzi at his absolute nadir of competence, this would be known in more trademark-respecting markets as Ghosthouse and is absolutely awful; Rifftrax did a pretty good job on it if you have to go there.

Astonishingly, Ghosthouse was actually kind of a hit, one suspects because viewers put down their money thinking they’d be getting more Evil Dead and it was astonishingly cheap to make. Two more Italian-made La Casa sequels were made before the second and third House movies got repackaged in Italy to round off the series. Well, strictly speaking only House III: The Horror Story got repackaged as La Casa 7House II: The Second Story is referred to as La Casa 6 but was never officially released under that exact name, leaving the series with a gaping hole at the 6 notch.

It gets more bizarre: Ghosthouse became the foundation of another franchise-in-name-only, with Lamberto Bava’s The Ogre, two other Umberto Lenzi haunted house clunkers (The House of Witchcraft and The House of Lost Souls, themselves part of the La Case Maledette series of made-for-TV horror films), and La Casa 4 and La Casa 5 forming the other members of the Ghosthouse series. Even wilder, La Casa 4 is sometimes designated as Ghosthouse 2 and sometimes as Ghosthouse 5, at the sheer whim of the various video distributors who participated in this nonsense.

Once you start getting into this stuff it gets outright fractal – Bava’s The Ogre was also dubbed by some (incorrectly) as being the third entry in the Demons series. So let’s back up from the edge of the abyss and just concentrate on La Casa: 88 Films have, for some goddamn reason, put out blu-rays of La Casa 4 and La Casa 5, so why don’t we take a look at them. After all, how bad can they be?

Dear reader: they can be astonishingly bad.

La Casa 4, AKA Witchcraft, AKA Witchery, AKA Ghosthouse 2, AKA Ghosthouse 5

Calling itself Witchcraft on the print 88 Films used, this was directed by Fabrizio Laurenti and is notable largely for landing David Hasselhoff to play the male lead, having been made right in the middle of his career slump between Knight Rider ending and Baywatch kicking off. The Hoff plays Gary, a photographer who accompanies his buddy Leslie (Leslie Cumming) on a paranormal research expedition to an isolated island off the New England coast.

The island is home to an abandoned hotel complex which is the focus of much local legend, the root of these superstitions being linked to the witch persecutions that happened in the area centuries ago. The place’s dire reputation means that the hotel is up for sale cheap, and the Brooks family – domineering mother Rose (Annie Ross), father Freddie (Bob Champagne), pregnant daughter Jane (Linda Blair) and young son Tommy (Michael Manchester) – are stopping by for a viewing, since they are considering buying the place and reopening it. Accompanying them is the estate agent, Jerry Giordano (Rick Farnsworth), who’s eager to make the sale, and Linda Sullivan (Catherine Hickland), a sexually voracious architect who’s coming along to do an estimate of how much it would cost to renovate the place.

This makes things rather awkward once the two parties encounter each other, since Leslie didn’t get permission to go to the island and it’s private property – but that’s soon the least of anyone’s worries. The boat that took the Brooks to the island has vanished, and a storm’s up so the rubber dinghy that Gary and Leslie used to get here can’t be used either. And it is evident to the viewer – but not yet the characters – that everyone has been drawn to this place by the mysterious Lady In Black (Hildegard Knef), who it’s implied might be a former Hollywood star who, after filming a feature on the island, became obsessed with the place to the point of buying it up and making her home here, abandoning her career entirely.

Or rather, the spirit of that actress – for the Lady In Black is manifesting in ways which make it clear she’s no mundane human. And that’s just the start of the strangeness that will claim the lives of most of the visitors to the island, as the forces of witchcraft gather and the gates of Hell yawn open…

Continue reading “Come Back Pazuzu, All Is Forgiven”

“They’re Rehashing It… and Then They’re Going To Rehash Me… OH MY GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWD!”

The Italian zombie movie boom was catalysed by Dario Argento becoming involved in George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead; in return for assistance with developing the story and securing funding, Romero agreed to let Argento produce the non-Anglophone edit of the film and do distribution to the non-English film markets. Under the name Zombi it was a monster hit, and when enterprising producers engaged Lucio Fulci to produce an unauthorised Zombi 2 – dubbed Zombie Flesh Eaters for those markets where pretending to be a legitimate Dawn of the Dead sequel wouldn’t fly – the movie he ended up producing was massively profitable.

A rash of further Italian zombie gut-munchers would follow, with no small number of them presenting themselves as Zombi 3. Eventually, producer Franco Gaudenzi of Flora Film would tap Fulci to make an actual Zombi 3 (or, for markets where that wouldn’t fly, Zombie Flesh Eaters 2). Fulci would not finish the shoot, amid conflicting stories as to whether he walked off set due to personal illness or creative disputes, and eventually Zombie Flesh Eaters 3 would become part of the disreputable portfolio of Bruno Mattei.

The end result was a commercial flop. Gaudenzi seems to have then indulged in an astonishing bit of sunk cost fallacy, decided that what he needed to do was to engage someone to knock out another zombie movie on a skeleton budget – yes, a skeleton budget compared to Zombie Flesh Eaters 2 – presumably so that he could dump it onto the market as a cash-grab.

This wasn’t the worst lapse of judgement on Gaudenzi’s part, though: that was entrusting the direction of the movie to Claudio Fragasso. As well as being a regular enabler of Bruno Mattei, having written the script for Mattei’s Zombie Creeping FleshRats, and Zombie Flesh Eaters 2, Fragasso was also a bit of a director himself, having been an uncredited co-director on all three of his movies. When it comes to his accomplishments as the main director on a project, one of his movies is actually rather famous: it’s this obscure cult movie which you might have heard of called Troll 2.

Continue reading ““They’re Rehashing It… and Then They’re Going To Rehash Me… OH MY GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWD!””