Fictionista, Foodie, Feline-lover

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Fiction--Mutton Dressed as Lamb

A short little Halloween story:

By Katherine Tomlinson

Vannetti sighed when Bruce knocked on the door of his study. He could tell from the sheepish look on Bruce's face that the reason for his unannounced visit was not anything good.
It was Bruce's first Halloween after his second birth and Vannetti had hoped he was out on the town, making the most of his new status and moving about freely, his pale skin and red-rimmed eyes dismissed as just another costume by the human revelers.
"Yes Bruce?" he asked, irritated by his passive body-language he displayed, more appropriate to prey than to his position as an alpha predator.
"Um," Bruce said, which annoyed Vannetti even more. He hated indecision of any sort and verbal hesitancy drove him mad. He'd been born into an aristocratic Venetian family that had valued intellectual rigor. He'd been thoroughly trained in the art of conversation by his father's courtesans and his mother's priests. Of all the changes that had occurred in the long years since he'd been born into the blood, Vannetti mourned the decline of meaningful discourse the most.
"I have a problem," Bruce said and Vannetti sighed again, which is actually not that easy for someone who doesn't need to breathe but a useful trick he'd found to communicate his emotions noverbally.
"I need to show you," Bruce said as he retreated from the doorway in the direction of the Grand Hall.
Vannetti wanted nothing more than to return to the book he was reading, but he knew Bruce would give him no peace until he attended to whatever drama had been created.
There was a masked woman standing in the Grand Hall.
Her figure was sublime, enhanced by a tight, long-sleeved gown of peacock silk that was wrapped around her like a present.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Eye of the beholder

Water Lilies by Monet
I don't much like hospitals. My father was a chronic invalid whose health problems required frequent hospitilization and my sister continued that tradition. I would be really happy if I never had to go into a hospital again. But  what with one thing and another, hospitals happen.  I spent eight hours at the Jules Stein Eye Clinic in LA yesterday, watching over a friend who needed eye surgery and then needed significant aftercare for pain management and blood oxygen levels.  Around one I wandered out of the recovery room looking for someplace to grab a bite.  I noticed the corridors were lined with cheery posters, including a version of Monet's "Water lilies" I'd never seen before. I stepped closer to the "poster" and discovered ... it was an original painting.  I went back and looked at the other "posters" I'd bypassed.  A Picasso. Another Monet. A Raoul Dufy.  There was a Van Gogh.  A treasure of art just hanging on the walls in an otherwise featureless corridor in a maze of featureless corridors. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

My vote is my own....

There are a lot of benefits to working as a freelancer. You can wear bike shorts or jammie pants all day. You never have to deal with office politics unless it's negotiating with your cat over who gets to sit in the big comfy desk chair. You don't have to listen to anyone else's choice of a radio station. You can sneak out to a movie whenever you want because as long as you get your work done it doesn't matter when you do the work.
I love being a freelancer.
And now it turns out there's another great benefit of being a freelancer. No one thinks they have the right to tell me how to vote.  (Half my clients are in Europe or Australia, and they especially couldn't care less how I vote, although they do have opinions about who should be the next President.) 
I cannot imagine getting an email like this one Mike White sent out to his employees at Rite-Hite suggesting they consider the "personal consequences" of voting for Barack Obama.
People who work for Rite-Hite can't just thumb their nose at their boss.  And of course, they can vote their consciences, because how would White know how they voted? But the kind of not-so-subtle intimidation this email carried is outrageous.
I am grateful that my livelihood does not depend on my political convictions or on how I vote.
This election cycle has brought out some of the most extreme rhetoric and outrageous behavior I can remember.  And it's not just the ridiculous and demeaning remarks about rape and abortion. It's the demands for birth certificates and tax returns and passport applications.
The most important election of my lifetime will be over in less than two weeks.
I've already voted.
And nobody told me what choices to make.
The choice was clear.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Running the numbers--Equal pay for equal work

One of the candidates for President does not believe that  it's a problem that women don't make as much as men in the workplace.
A lot of people believe that the same candidate's wife, who chose to be a stay-at-home mom, said this about equal pay for women:  "Why should women be paid equal to men? Men have been in the working world a lot longer and deserve to be paid at a higher rate."  It's a great little soundbite, the perfect kind of quote to generate outrage but Ann Romney never said it.  For info on who created and propagated the bogus quote, check out this post on's Urban Legend's channel.
So maybe people should quit damning Mrs. Romney for things she didn't say.
Her husband, though, has said a lot of things on the subject and he just will not be pinned down by pesky reporters who keep asking him for his opinion on equal pay for women.
What is known is that he opposed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
(Who is Lilly Ledbetter you might ask.   She's a woman who sued her employer, Goodyear, claiming she'd been paid significantly less than her male counterparts. 
Here's a thought to take with you into the polling booth--Women college graduates make, on average, $8000 less a year than their male peers.  Don't take my word for it, check out this article.

Halloween Movie Marathon: Tales from the Darkside

I never saw the television series Tales from the Darkside, but I really liked this anthology film. Like Stephen King's Cat's Eye or the Twilight Zone Movie, it was a collection of three tales, bookended by a riff on Hansel and Gretl with Deborah Harry of Blondie fame playing the witch figure.
The three segments were "Lot 249," based on a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story and starring Steve Buscemi, Julianne Moore, and Christian Slater; "Lover's Vow" starring James Remar and Rae Dawn Chong; and "Cat From Hell," based on a Stephen King story, starring the supremely creepy William Hickey (remember him from Prizzi's Honor?) and David (Buster Poindexter) Johansen.
Oddly, I have almost no memory of the "Cat From Hell" segment, which was adapted by George Romero from King's short story. Romero and director John Harrison are long-time friends and colleagues--you can see Harrison play Pellinore in Romero's entertaining Knightriders. If you're an Ed Harris fan, you should really check the movie out. It's about a troupe of Ren Faire biker/jousters. Stephen King makes a cameo appearance as an obnoxious audience member (and if memory serves, his wife Tabitha King is also in there.) Harrison and Romero also collaborated on Diary of the Dead.
"Lot 249" was a very creepy mummy story.  Buscemi had mostly been doing television series work up to them (he'd be in Miller's Crossing a couple of years later). Slater had just had a Lindsay Lohan-style problem with his car and some alcohol but didn't let it affect his work.
"Lover's Vow" was possibly the strongest of the stories and had some really good special effects for a horror movie made for a price. The chemistry between Remar (of Dexter) and Chong was hot.
This is a movie where you can dip in and out of the stories as the night goes on. Pair it with something like the Romero/King collaboration Creepshow.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Halloween Movie Marathon: Pet Sematary

I have read nearly all of Stephen King's books, some of them twice, and Pet Sematary scared me the most because the wish fulfillment at work is so incredibly basic. Who wouldn't want a beloved pet to return, or a beloved relative?
I liked this movie although I never saw either the sequel or the remake. The tagline from the movie, "Sometimes dead is better" is kind of my policy on remakes--sometimes you just need to let a movie die. Seriously. Now that we have Blu-Ray and VOD and streaming and netflix and hulu and whatever, you really don't need to remake a movie for a new audience because each generation of audience can see the original for themselves.
But I digress.
I liked the casting in this movie. Dale Midkiff was fine as the father who can't resist the oportunity to bring his son back. This movie is King's version of The Monkey's Paw and audiences were screaming "Don't do it" when I first saw it.
Denise Crosby's role as his wife was probably the best role she ever had on the big screen.
The person I really liked, though, was Fred Gwynne, who played the neighbor who holds the secret of the Pet Sematary.  Three years later he played the long-suffering judge on My Cousin Vinny and he was a hoot. Here he is utterly convincing as a man who talks about having a heart like stony ground, but who can't help but interfere when he sees his neighbor suffering.
Stephen King has a cameo in the film as a minister, and he's better than M. Night Shyamalan in his cameos, but not by much. He's about on a par with Peter Benchley, who made a brief appearance in Jaws.
The movie was directed by Mary Lambert, who also directed the sequel. Lambert's film career never really got any traction, although she has directed a number of genre films (and has one in production) and a lot of music videos for Sting and Lionel Ritchie and similar superstar talents.
There are some genuine frights in this movie, and the idea itself is just damn creepy. The book is even creepier, so you might want to read it first just to get the full effect.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

It's not that hard to get it right!

Sigh. The four most lucrative times of the year for me are the annual film festivals--Cannes, Toronto, Berlin, and the American Film Market, which is due to open in little over a week. I read between 30 and 100 movie scripts in the weeks running up to the markets, and sometimes I have to subcontract the work in order to get it all done.
I've gotten used to certain errors I see over and over and over again in scripts ("Vile" of cocaine"; "His breaks failed"), but I'm starting to get a little nuts about the mistakes my subcontractors routinely make.
The most common error is mistaking ITS and IT'S.  Seriously.  It is not that hard to keep them straight. Ditto for WHOSE and WHO'S. My contractors are smart people, good writers, educated. But somewhere along the way, they just missed a couple of things.
My best friend mocks me when I go off on this stuff and calls me a "word snoot."
And it's not like I don't have weaknesses.  I can't spell graffiti to save my life. I always want to put in one F and two Ts.  I'm not really clear on THAT and WHICH.
But I know IT'S and ITS.
I actually blame Spellcheck. Have you ever noticed that Spellcheck will challenge your every use of ITS and IT'S? If you're not rock solid on the rule, it would be VERY easy to get it wrong. 
I try to remember that as I go through the work I get back.
I fear I am becoming the grammar equivalent of the cranky old person who tells kids to get off his lawn.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Herstory: Mary Seacole

I'd never heard of Mary Seacole, a Jamaican-born nurse, until I was given a script to read about her. She was the first nurse on the battlefield in the Crimean War--first, even though we've all been taught about Florence Nightingale, who came later. (And in fact, Nightingale said ugly things about Seacole, accusing her of running a brothel and getting soldiers drunk.  Sisterhood isn't always powerful.) She's got an amazing story. Read more about her on Wikipedia.

Feminist (Non) Fiction Friday--the News Edition

Pauline Frederick c. 1955
When I was growing up, writing for school newspapers and thinking about going for a journalism degree, the three most visible women journalists were Barbara Walters, Pauline Frederick and Helen Thomas. (On the print side there was also Gloria Emerson and Frances FitzGerald, who both wrote fantastic books about the Viet Nam War.)
Later, there was Diane Sawyer, former beauty queen and Republican political strategist  (she helped write Nixon's memoirs), and Jessica Savitch, the weekend anchor at NBC who died tragically in 1983. I never watched the Today Show, so never had an opinion about Katie Couric one way or another. I never watched a single broadcast of her prime time news show. I just never really put her in the same category as other women journalists. But they came later.
The three women who shaped me were Barbar and Pauline and Helen.
I cannot tell you how completely betrayed I felt when beteran White House reporter Helen Thomas suddenly revealed herself to be an anti-Semite. I took it personally.
I remember Pauline Frederick as a UN reporter. I thought that sounded very glamorous. I could see myself doing that--using my French and maybe other languages I'd pick up on the side as I covered stories in far-off places.  The story is that when Pauline was first starting out, few men would agree to be interviewed by a woman so she approached their wives first.  She was the first female reporter to broadcast from China and she had an early interest in "electronic communication." She died more than two decades ago at the age of 82, but she would have felt right at home in the world of Twitter and FB and YouTube.
And then there's Barbara Walters. Every female journalist working today owes a big thank you to Barbara. She's always been an easy target for jokes about her questions ("If you were a tree what would you be?") but I've done my share of celebrity interviews and you know...sometimes questions like that are the only way to break through the wall and get something like a real answer,
Barbara. She worked her way up to that slot on Today and she paid her dues in a time when NO ONE would take a woman reporting hard news seriously.
That idea seems so quaint now.
Connie Chung was another journalist who was very visible in the late 20th century but she's kind of disappeared now. That's a shame.  Andrea Mitchell, another veteran reorter, is very visible right now, appearing at the RNC and DNC conventions, doing interviews from the floor while being virtually engulfed in balloons. She is a breast cancer survivor (this is Breast Cancer Awareness month) and a tough cookie who is in her mid-60s and shows no signs of slowing down.
When CNN came along it was thrilling because there was Bobbie Batista anchoring the news and just being awesome by her very presence. And then there was Christiane Amanpour, who was tough and beautiful and whip smart and reporting from war-torn countries. (I still had fantasies of being a war reporter myself.)

Chocolate Milk for Grownups--Coco Metro

I am all about the cheese (and the yogurt, and the sour cream and the butter) but I despise milk. My parents didn't force us to drink  milk once we were weaned, and we happily drank ice water at meals, or iced tea. When I used to eat cereal, I would splash on some milk, but only enough to moisten the cereal and only if it was non-fat milk. I just don't like the way milk tastes or the way it feels in my mouth. (My father's family owned a dairy farm and at my grandmother's house I once had milk pretty much straight from the cow.  It was NASTY.)
I don't even really like chocolate milk all that much. Of course I like chocolate, but most processed chocolate milks taste vaguely chemical-y to me, and the texture is kind of revolting too.
Today at my favorite grocery store, they were giving out samples of something called Coco Metro, though, and I hadn't eaten yet so I grabbed a sample.
It was delicious.
For one thing, even though there's a fair amount of sugar in the mix, what you taste is the chocolate and not the sweet. And the chocolate is high quality, dark Belgian chocolate so that the taste left in your mouth is that lovely, bitter chocolate finish of a fine truffle.
It's not cheap.  While other bottled chocolate milks are priced at around $1.59 (on sale for 99 cents most of the time), Coco Metro costs $3.79 a serving.
I don't always drink chocolate milk, but when I do, it'll probably be Coco Metro.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

I do not think that word means what you think it means...

The word is FREE.
I keep seeing posts on FB with links to a Kindle book that's FREE only to find out that it's  not actually free to anyone but people who belong to Amazon's PRIME program. In other isn't FREE.
And while we're on the subject of Kindle books, what's the deal with Kindle books being ... out of stock?  Seriously? 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Difference between a Scary Movie and a Horror Movie

One of the scariest movies I ever saw was The Bedford Incident. It came out in 1965, at the height of the Cold War (only three years after the Cuban missile crisis of 50 years ago this month) and it really reflected the era. It's about an American Naval officer determined to confront a Soviet submarine that has violated territorial waters. It does not end well. It's told in an almost documentary style, as I recall and though I haven't seen it since college, when it was part of the curriculum of a dorm course in political cinema, I still remember how shaken I was by the ending.

When I took Driver's Ed in high school,  I was shown all those gory scare-fests that were so disturbing in some cases they were counter-productive. (I had a friend who was so put off by them that she didn't get her license until she was in her 20s. And a month after she got her license, she died in a car accident. I know, define irony.) I think that's why today I really hate the gory horror movies. I'm fine with "jump out at me" scary moments but I don't want to see blood and guts. Even if they are special effects.
The scariest movie I think I ever saw, though, was Jaws. I saw it the summer it came out and have seen it a couple of time since and since 1975, I have never, ever gone into the ocean past my knees.  I know the chances of being eaten by a Great White Shark are pretty unlikely--although they regularly cruise between the beaches of Santa Monica and Catalina Island--but in the lizard part of my brain, I know that it's still possible. Jaws literally altered my behavior. I'd been an avid body-surfer up to the point where I'd seen the movie. (Or as much of a body-surfer as you can be at Virginia Beach where a really high wave is three feet tall.)  I don't body-surf any more.  I am very, very aware that in the ocean, humans are just visiting.
Jaws made me jump more than any horror movie I've ever seen.

Separated at Birth--Paul Ryan and Dr. Oz?

Dr. Oz
Paul Ryan
They say "politics makes strange bedfellows." I saw a photo of Dr. Oz on a back issue of Prevention magazine and found myself wondering who he reminded me of. What do you think--Dr. Oz and Paul Ryan, twin sons of different mothers?

G. M. Malliet's A Fatal Winter

I just read G.M. Malliet's A Fatal Winter, and will be doing a full review soon. You can read the post I did for Criminal Element's Fresh Meat hereA Fatal Winter is the second in Malliet's series about Max Tudor, a former MI5 operative-turned-vicar of a small English village called Nether Monkslip where the biggest problems facing the populace are who'll house the cat that runs around the hisoric church where Max preaches and whether poinsettias and holly are toxic.
After reading so much dark matter lately, reading Fatal Winter was like sinking into a warm bath scented with lavender.  I loved the characters. I loved the village. (I want to move there.) And I loved the description of the food at the Yuletide party at the end.  A Fatal Winter is highly recommended for those of you who love "traditional" mysteries.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Feminist at Fourteen--Malala Yousufzai

There's an indiegogo campaign that's been started to provide funds to Malala and her family as she continues what will be a long convalescence. Here's the link.

This year's Oscar for best picture goes to...

The movie to beat is Argo.
The year the American embassy in Tehran was overrun, I was living in my parents' house taking care of my dying mother. Desperate for distraction, I watched hours of news, and rarely missed Ted Koppel on Nightline.
I can't say that overdosing on reality made me feel better but it did take my mind off my personal problems.
Day after day the chanting mobs from Iran filled the television screen, the hate in the faces of the men and women so visceral that it radiated in an almost palpable wave.
So many people, day after day after day.
"Don't any of these people have jobs?" my mother and I wondered.
I don't know when it became known that the Canadian ambassador had risked his life to shelter six American diplomats but I do remember the news stories at the time. His actions were so honorable and so brave. The Ambassador's name is Kenneth Taylor.
Several years ago I was paid to read the Argo script for one of my clients. It came to me cold, the only information attached was that Ben Affleck was going to direct it. At the time he'd directed Gone, Baby, Gone, so I didn't roll my eyes the way I sometimes do when I'm told an actor has a passion project he/she wants to direct. (I know, that's not very nice of me, but I've read scripts that actors have chosen for their directorial debuts and at lot of them are truly dreadful.  Tai-Chi Man?  Really?)
Argo was so good it made the hairs on the back of my neck tingle.
The movie is even better.
Go see it.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Halloween Movie Marathon: Hush...Hush Sweet Charlotte

When I talk about "horror movies," I'm usually talking about something with a supernatural elements--ghosts or demons or witches or vampires or something. But there's a whole level of movies without that element, movies that are terrible in a wholly human way. Hush...Hush Sweet Charlotte is a movie like that, an over-the-top melodramatic version of a psychological horror story starring two great actresses in the sunset of their careers. On IMDB, the movie is tagged as a drama/horror/thriller and it is all three of those.veryone remembers that Olivia de Havilland and Bette Davis starred in this movie about a southern belle gone looney, but most people don't remember that the movie was chock full of fabulous supporting actors including Agnes Moorehead, Bruce Dern, Cecil Kellaway, VictoBuono, and  Joseph Cotton.You can watch the full movie on IMDB.
I always associate this movie with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. I've always seen them together and my memory of them is so entwined that I can't remember which one had the moment where a boiled rat is served up for dinner. (I'm pretty sure that's Baby Jane). Baby Jane came out in 1962; Hush...Hush Sweet Charlotte came out in 1964. Both were directed by Robert Aldrich, who went on to direct The Dirty Dozen three years later. (Victor Buono co-starred in both movies, which was another connection between them.) Buono was only 43 when he died in 1982, and he was all over the landscape of the television shows I watched as a kid.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Nitpicking 666 Park Avenue

I really wanted to like this series; I really, really did. I loved the idea that it was a Faustian sort of show with touches of Stephen King's Needful Things. And there are some things about it that the writers and producers got right. That elevator scene with the photographer, for example. It was unexpected and really effective. There were also a couple of cool moments when things showed up in the dark, out of the field of vision of the characters, one of which was a really good things that go bump in the night" bit.
Terry O'Quinn is terrifically reptilian as the master of ceremonies in the dark circus that is the building (the Drake Apartments), and Vanessa Williams is just stunning. The show is filled with young women we know are beautiful, but they all seem to be cookie cutter types, pretty enough but not memorable, either as faces or as actresses.  (The young men are pretty bland as well and O'Quinn just acts them all off the screen. I'd love to see him and Bryan Cranston in an acting face-off.)
I love the dragon mosaic in the basement of the building. (Just in case we don't know, we're told that the word "Drake" is another word for "Dragon" but no one mentions its biblical symbolism, which is surprising because this is NOT a subtle show.)
I can tell you the exact moment that the show lost me and that was when the pretty blonde resident manager runs into the lovely Samantha Logan, playing a sort of psychic gypsy type, and the character and she complains about a washer in the laundry room being on the fritz.
Okay--to review--the building at 666 Park Avenue is a luxurious old building from the Twenties with a doorman and a concierge/bellman and the apartments don't have their own laundry facilities?  Really?
Then later, our plucky new resident manager decides she's going to do some research about the building at the public library, apparently never having heard of Google. (And the library's really old special collection turns out to have a whole lot of stuff about the building out in the general stacks. I've worked in libraries--that sort of thing would be kept under lock and key.
I wouldn't quibble if the show had engaged me but it just didn't. There's a moment t hat seems to have been lifted from The Devil's Advocate (and other movies I can't recall).
I think, if I had to put my hand on one thing that's not working, it's that the writers aren't giving their viewers enough credit. Every throwaway line is UNDERLINED, as if the audience won't get the innuendo.
I'm so disappointed. I don't watch a lot of television, but I had high hopes for this show. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Feminist Horror Films--Where are they?

I'm not the first woman to ask this question and I won't be the last. Bitch Media, a site that accompanies the magazine Bitch (a feminist response to pop culture) has an interesting post on faux feminism and the lack of feminist horror films. (They don't count rape-and-revenge films and neither do I.)
Are so few horror movies feminist because if you take out "women as victim" you don't have much of a movie?  Is Cat People a feminist movie?
Heartless Doll posted a list of 10 top horror movie heroines back in 2008. I doubt they'd have many to add in the four years since they compiled their list. (Is The Others feminist?) Among those they listed were Carrie from Carrie; Wendy from The Shining, Ripley in Alien (which I don't really call a horror movie) and Rosemary in Rosemary's Baby. I don't quite get that last one. It's not like Rosemary prevails, but at least she is more than the usual drippy heroine who screams a lot.
The NBC television show Grimm is about to do an episode based on the myth of La Lorona (the weeping woman who steels children she finds by running water) and I'm looking forward to that because the stories of La Lorona are so sad and gender-specific. There must have been a horror movie centered on this myth/folk tale before but I've never seen it.
We need more horror movies with female villains and even more with empowered females hunting monsters. Buffy the Vampire Slayer can't really be the only one, can it?

Deb Butler's campaign ad

I went to college in North Carolina and I wish I still lived there so I could vote for Deb Butler.Butler's the kind of person I admire. She worked her way through college, according to her bio, toiling at restaurants and on landscape crews and a bunch of other jobs to pay her way through college and law school.
She has run businesses. She has gotten involved in her community. She. Gets. It.
Deb Butler is running for the North Carolina State Senate against Republican Thom Goolsby. Goolsby like his Virginia colleagues, supports mandatory trans-vaginal scans for women seeking abortions. (It's part of the "Women's Right to Know" Act enacted in 2011.)  In her latest campaign ad, Butler holds a transvaginal wand and says, "I think we need to have a candid conversation..."
You can see the article here, and watch the ad as well.
The Raleigh News & Observer (in a massive understatement) called the ad "visually frank."  Butler's opponent has voted to slash funds for birth control  (He's also voted to cut funds for cancer screenings, which is another topic altogether.)
Abortion is such a hot-button issue that at times it doesn't seem like anyone can discuss it in a calm and rational manner. I have a friend, who is long past the age where it's even an issue for her, who is so rabid a supporter of unfettered reproductive rights that it is the ONLY political issue she considers when she goes to the polls. (And no, she never had an abortion.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

October 11, International Day of the Girl Child

It's been a tough year for girls and young women all over the globe. Just this week, a 14-year-old girl became a target for speaking out against the aliban's attempts to limit education for young women. (Read the story here.) Even in the U.S. young women have been branded "sluts" for demanding their reproductive rights. Female mutilation is still practiced in numerous countries. If you're a girl, or used to be a girl or have a daughter or know a young woman, celebrate the International Day of the Girl Child by thinking about what can be done to help girls throughout the world achieve their goals and dreams. If you want to do something concrete, click over to Raise Your Hand.

Halloween Movie Marathon: Changeling

This is another haunted house story. I seem to be fond of haunted house stories. The centerpiece of this movie is a scene that sounds totally laughable when you try to describe it to anyone who hasn't seen it. 
It involves a wet ball bouncing down a flight of steps.
If you've seen the movie, you know the moment I mean.
And you know how scary it was.
George C. Scott starred in The Changeling and when you realized how scared his character was by that wet ball, you lost all shame about being scared yourself.
Because you know, George C. Scott was scared so you'd better believe that it was scary.
The movie co-starred Melvyn Douglas, a two-time Oscar winner who also had an Emmy and a Tony on his mantle. Douglas' last movie was Ghost Story, based on  Peter Straub's novel of the same name. I wasn't a huge fan of Ghost Story, but it was a chance to see Douglas, Fred Astaire, John Houseman and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. in the same movie. The movie also co-starred Trish Van Devere, Scott's fifth wife, who also co-starred with him in Day of the Dolphin.(Scott actually married Colleen Dewhurst twice.)
The movie was directed by a man named Peter Medak who is the hardest working man in show business. Born in 1937 in Hungary, he fled to the UK when he was 21. He's directed 60 movies (and has one coming out next year). His resume includes a lot of television (like Breaking Bad) but an eclectic list of features too, from Zorro the Gay Blade to The Krays.
The movie was the second feature for screenwriter William Gray, who also wrote The Philadelphia Experiment and a terrific genre movie called Black Moon Rising with Tommy Lee Jones and Linda Hamilton. Mostly since then he's worked in TV, writing episodes of everything from Dark Shadows to the Killer Wave miniseries that ran in 2007.
The Changeling is another "classy" horror story of the kind that's been out of vogue for awhile.  Pair it with Nicole Kidman's The Others for a Halloween double feature.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Halloween Movie Marathon: The Uninvited

The Uninvited (starring Ray Milland) is one of those black and white movies I saw on a local TV channel in Richmond when I was in high school. I consumed movies pretty uncritically back then and as a result, I can keep up my end of the conversation whenever talk turns to vintage films, as it often does in my circle of friends. (I know. We all need a life.)
My father loved movies more than any video store geek I ever met, but he preferred westerns to horror, so most nights when the creature-feature came on, I was left alone in the living room to watch while the rest of the family slept upstairs.
The living room had two French doors that opened onto a porch, and at night, they reflected ghostly images that could really freak you out after a while. And the house was old, with creepy creaky noises every time the furnace kicked on or the radiators heated up or someone got up and went to the bathroom.
But the living room also had a very comfy couch, just right for sharing with the family cat, an aloof black puffball who fed the anti-cat fervor of all who met him. (The cat tolerated the family but only loved my sister, but when it was chilly, he was a slut and would cozy up to the nearest warm body.)
The first time I saw Nightmare on Elm Street, I was lying on the couch in the living room, with the family's phone on an end table by my feet. I think if the phone had rung, I'd have jumped out of my skin. (BTW, I never saw the remake with Jackie Earle Haley, an actor I really like. Did anyone? How was it?)
The Uninvited is a ghost story and has a classic setup. A composer and his sister discover that the reason the gothic seaside manor they've just bought was so cheap is that it's haunted.  I remember being impressed with the special effects, which were probably state of the art for 1944. The ghosts looked real to me.
Alan Napier, who is fondly remembered by baby boomers as Alfred the butler on the Batman television series was in the cast; as was Cornelia Otis Skinner, an actress, playwright and humorist whose first novel, Our Hearts Were Young and Gay is an absolutely hilarious account of two girlfriends on a grand tour of Europe after their graduation from college.
The movie was written by Dodie Smith, who was also a novelist. She wrote the children's book 101 Dalmations that formed the basis of the wildly successful Disney movie of the same name.
The movie was directed by Lewis Allen who, the next year, directed Unseen from a screenplay by Raymond Chandler. He went on to direct a lot of episodic television (Bonanza, Big Valley, Little House on the Prairie.)
This movie is low-key and would make a perfect pairing for the more intense Haunting.

Weird Noir

Cover by S.L. Johnson
Weird Noir, edited by Kate Laity, is coming soon from Fox Spirit and I'm very happy to report that my story, "Identity Crisis" will be in it.  I'm looking forward to reading the stories in it, especially one called "Wonder Woman Walks Into a Bar" by Leeyanne Moore and "Charred Kraken with Plum Butter" by Christopher L. Irvin.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Halloween Movie Marathon--Fright Night

I liked the reboot of Fright Night with Anton Yelchin and Colin Farrell but I liked the original, 1985 version with Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale and Roddy McDowall even more. In the remake, Peter Vincent is kind of a rock star/Mind Freak kind of guy (and that's a really interesting idea) but in the original, as played by Roddy McDowall, he was a beloved local monster movie host of the sort beloved of movie geeks everywhere.
Fright Night was written and directed by Tom Holland, who has also worked as an actor in a lot of genre movies, including Stephen King's The Stand and Langoliers. He's got a movie called The Ten O'Clock People coming out in 2013.
William Ragsdale, the young male lead, was kind of the Shia LeBeouf of his day. Fright Night was only his second movie (in his first, his character was called "the kid") and he's since gone on to a career that mixes television and feature films. He's also got a film coming out next year, the noir-ish Broken City.
Chris Sarandon as the vampire Ragsdale's character runs across, is smooth and seductive and quite scary. He doesn't have quite the feral ferocity of Colin Farrell's vampire, but you would not want to run into him in a dark alley. (Or maybe you would if you're inclined to fantasize about tall, dark and handsome vampires.)
I liked he way Fright Night played with the vampire mythos. This is another movie that's suitable for family viewing but still scary.

A spooky gig

I occasionally work catering gigs with my friend Alex of Word of Mouth Catering. Last night we catered a party for 200 that took place in a mausoleum in Pasadena. It was a gorgeous space--all stained glass and marble, and spooky as all get out because outside of the lighted area where the event was being held, there were no lights anywhere. I'm on record as being afraid of the dark until I was an adult, and there's nothing that'll bring back childhood fears faster than taking the wrong turn down a corridor filled with crypts.
The party--a fund-raiser for a group of artists--was a big success and a good time was had by all, but we were really surprised that the hit of the evening was a little appetizer we put together on the fly.

Olive Tapenade and Cream Cheese on Crackers...

We bought a big tub of cream cheese at Costco.
We bought jars of olive tapenade at Costco.
We bought boxes of crackers at Costco.
At the event we slathered about an inch of cream cheese on a dish and then poured the tapenade over it. We put out knives to spread the mixture on crackers.
We refilled that platter four times before we ran out (and believe me when I tell you we NEVER run out of goodies at events). We saw people just eating it with a fork.

I highly recommend the combination if you're planning a party during the upcoming holiday season. It was a real crowd pleaser.  If you want to make your own tapenade, there are a bazillion recipes on the Internet. I like this one from

the Zombie Apocalypse comes in on the high tide

Photo by Chris Pallister Gulf Keepers of Alaska
I have been haunted by the images of tsunami debris floating across the Pacific for more than a year. Now it's starting to come ashore in Canada and Washington and Oregon. It's only a matter of time before it arrives here in So. Cal.
All those bits of metal that used to be cars ad bits of wood that used to be boats and also black gunk that might have been anything...
That's the visual fertilizer that nourished my story "Tourist Visa." You can read onChristopher Grant's  Eaten Alive site, here.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Halloween Movie Marathon: Night Gallery

Rod Serling was one of the writers who shaped my own fiction. (He was only 50 when he died, but he'd packed a lot of living into those 50 years.)
I loved Twilight Zone so much and even today rarely miss the hoiday episode marathons they show here in L.A., even though I know most of the episodes they show by heart. I was never that huge a fan of Night Gallery, but the pilot episode (available as part of the first season DVD) has three stories that are scary in very different ways.
The famous segment, "Eyes" starred Joan Crawford and is notable because it was a young Steven Spielberg's break-out directing gig. For me it was kind of a knockoff of the famous Isaac Asimov story "Nightfall." The other two stories gripped my imagination in a much stronger way. The first episode was about a greedy man in the south who is scared to death by paintings showing relatives coming out of their graves. Roddy McDowall and Ossie Davis starred in the episode and I remember Ossie Davis' character was named "Portifoy." That episode was directed by Boris Sagal, father of Sons of Anarchy's Katy Sagal.
For me the most powerful of the pilot's episodes was "Escape Route," starring Richard Kiley as a Nazi war criminal who imagines himself into a painting of an idyllic scene, only to discover someone's moved the painting and he's now trapped in a living hell. It was not a subtle story, but was really effective.
The first season of the show was the strongest, and the disk is something to watch over a long weekend when all the broadcast channels are showing cheesy made-for-television horror movies and theatrical films with the profanity and sex cut out.

Halloween Movie Marathon: Poltergeist

I used to be afraid of the dark. When I was little, we lived in a house with a great back yard filled with trees that were perfect for climbing. But one of those trees had branches that would rattle against my bedroom window whenever the wind was up and I always felt like it was going to break the window and come in after me.
So when I saw Poltergeist and that kid-eating tree in it, I knew that I was not alone in my fear, and I totally bought into what happened next.
I really liked JoBeth Williams as the mother in this movie, and found Craig T. Nelson a very sympathetic suburban dad. both actors are still working, but JoBeth's career as a leading lady never really blew up the way it should have. 
It's really sad to think that two of the three kids who played the children in the movie are dead--Heather O'Rourke at twelve from cardiac arrest and intestinal stenosis and Dominique Dunne murdered by her abusive boyfriend. One of the last hard-news stories I covered as a reporter was a meeting of Parents of Murdered Children (POMC) where Dominique's mother Ellen was a speaker.
Ellen was in a wheelchair then, gaunt from the disease that finally killed her and still regally beautiful. John Van De Kamp, who was then the California Attorney General, was also a guest and his law and order platitudes fell on deaf ears and unsympathetic hearts. It was a tough room.
Zelda Rubenstein's Tangina was a terrific character, and the character was a highlight of the veteran character actress' career, which also included an ongoing gig as the narrator of a show called The Scariest Places on Earth.  (I didn't know this, but before Zelda turned to acting, she earned a degree in bacteriology and worked for years as a lab technician at various blood banks.)
Poltergeist was directed by Tobe Hooper, whose big claim to fame before that was directing the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the Stephen King miniseries Salem's Lot, starring David Soul, Lance Kerwin (the James at 15 star turns 50 next month--don't you feel old?) and James Mason. (There's one heart-stopping moment in that mini that scared me to death and I knew the book really well and was expecting it.)
Poltergeist came out 30 years ago (the same year as E.T., actually) and it would be interesting to see if it still has the power to scare.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Happpy 25th birthday Princess Bride

I was listening to an interview with Mandy Patinkin today and he was talking about how people still come up to him and ask him to say Inigo Montoya's deathless lines, "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."  Those are good lines, but I'm fond of "Never go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line."
I really liked The Princess Bride and have seen it several times since it came out 25 years ago.  I just saw Robin Wright in the English version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and she is still lovely, with the kind of beauty that will be with her until she's 100.
And wasn't Cary Elwes perfect as Westley?  He turns 50 later this month. Hard to believe. He still works all the time, IMDB shows he has eight different movies in release this  year.
My best friend is actually related to the "Dread Pirate Roberts," the Welsh pirate Bartholomew Roberts, who raided off the coast of America and Africa from 1719 to 1722.  His death (in battle with the English Navy) is often seen as the end of the Golden Age of Piracy. I get an enormous kick out of that association. (Family lore has often said that my family had connections to Sir Thomas More, but you know, I'd much rather have a pirate than a saint in my background.)
I read William Goldman's novel, The Princess Bride, and didn't really like it very much. I am a huge fan of the man, though, and think he's written some absolutely flawless screenplays, and this is one of them.
There are so many great lines in The Princess Bride that are still wonderfully quotable. ("I do not think that word means what you think  it means.")
This is a year for anniversaries--the 30th anniversary of E.T., the 50th of James Bond, and this, the 25th anniversary of The Princess Bride, the best fractured fairy tale since Jay Ward closed up shop.

Halloween Movie Marathon: What Lies Beneath

This is a ghost story that's subtle enough to really be more of a psychological thriller. I saw it at a screening with a friend who, as it turns out, has an almost pathological fear of drowning. She had to leave the theater during the most suspenseful and nerve-wracking scene in the movie and it was harrowing enough  I was thinking of joinging her.
I really liked Michelle Pfeiffer in this movie. She was incredibly sympathetic.
The movie poster (as you can see) features a bath tub. Creepy bathtub/shower scenes are a staple of horror movies. (Let's talk The Shining, or Psycho for that matter.)  There's something extra menacing about something supernatural lurking around when you're totally naked. (I used to rent a house that had one of those makeup mirrors bolted to the tile by the sink. If you caught it at just the right angle, the image it reflected was upside down. Imagine how scary that would be the first night you used the bathroom and caught a glimpse in the moonlight of SOMETHING upside down.) 
I liked all the cast in the movie--from Miranda Otto and James Remar as the neighbors to a blink-and-you-missed-her Amber Valletta.  (I have really liked her in other movies where she had a chance to show some acting chops, like Hitch and Transporter 2.)  Harrison Ford made a good villain.
The scares in this movie are atmospheric, designed to come to a slow build and leave you wondering what's real and what's spooky.
The movie was written by Clark Gregg, who is also an actor. (He played Agent Coulson in Iron Man, Iron Man 2 and The Avengers.) He also wrote and directed the screen adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's Choke (starring Sam Rockwell, who was also in Iron Man 2). 
The movie was directed by Robert Zemeckis, who has actually produced a lot of horror movies in his partnership with Joel Silver, including Ghost Ship, Thirteen Ghosts and Gothika. I didn't find any of those movies particularly scary although there's a moment in Ghost Ship with a wire that's flinch-producing.  Still, Bob Z directed one of my favorite movies, Romancing the Stone, so who am I to complain about the scare-factor of his other movies?  (And I also liked the poster for Ghost Ship, which was in the same vein as Cabin Fever, which I thought was...wretched.)
On the other hand, Cabin Fever was made for $1.5 million and earned $30 million worldwide, so clearly mine is a minority opinion.
What Lies Beneath is not like either Ghost Ship or Cabin Fever, which would probably work well as a double feature movie night if you're feeling nostalgic for old school horror that's heavy on gore and not really offering much else.  (The best thing about Cabin Fever is Ryder Strong, who was from Boy Meets World. One of his costars was Jordan Ladd, daughter of Charlie's Angel Cheryl Ladd.)
If you're looking for something you can watch in "mixed company" (that is, with people who aren't necessarily horror movie fans), What Lies Beneath is a good choice. Just make sure no one's afraid of drowning.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Halloween Movie Marathon: The Omen

There's a scene in The Omen (I am speaking about the original, Richard Donner-directed version, the other one isn't really worth mentioning) where I was suddenly very, very uncomfortable and I couldn't figure out why. And then I realized it was because I was looking at the scene from an unknown point of view. And then moments later, I realized I was watching the scene from the POV of those devil dogs who were watching over Damien. And long before I knew what "subjective point of view" was, I was experiencing it. And it was creepy.  Twelve years after being scared to death by the movie, I ended up working for Donner and his producer wife Lauren Shuler Donner. And all these years later, I'm still working for them as a freelancer. They are the best kind of Hollywood people and I hope to work for them forever.
But I was talking about The Omen.
Movies about creepy and evil kids are often very effective. There's the original Bad Seed, of course, but the first really creepy movie about children I ever saw was The Other, based on the best-selling book by Thomas Tryon. (The Other got extra points for being an evil twin story as well.)  There was something truly perverse about The Other.  (I read all of Tryon's books and thought the most effective was Harvest Home, which was made into a terrifically cheesy miniseries called The Dark Secret of Harvest Home. Bette Davis starred as the creepy matriarch of a small town where men had just one use. But more about that on another day.)
Elijah Wood, who starred in Donner's movie Radio Flyer and would later become everybody's favorite hobbit, starred in another creepy kid movie, The Good Son. The star was Macauley Culkin (as the title character) and though Culkin is a good actor, Elijah just acted him right off the screen. Check out the trailer.
The Omen was a classy horror movie, like the original Haunting or the Sixth Sense. It depended on atmosphere and intensity for its shocks and above all it was intelligent. Timing was everything--like the moment where you know David Warner's character is going to be decapitated by that sheet of glass and there's nothing he can do about it. You can't look away and yet instead of lingering on gore, the way a lot of torture porn horror movies would have, we're on to the next moment. There was something ... elegant about the horror and the understated nature of the story helped to sell it. The Omen was a great horror movie precisely because it was rooted in the familiar, in the very realest of real-world settings. It was much creepier than Rosemary's Baby, at least in my opinion. (I saw Rosemary's Baby at a midnight show when I was in college and I was bored. I thought the book was a lot scarier.)
I saw The Omen again a few years ago ad it holds up.  the acting (by Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, and Dr. Who's Patrick Troughton) is first rate. This movie should definitely be on your playlist for the holiday.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Halloween Movie Marathon: The Crawling Hand

I saw this movie as a kid, probably on the horror movie show hosted by Richmond's answer to Elvira, a guy who called himself the Bowman Body. He wore Dracula drag and had a bandaid on his forehead. (As it turns out, I'm not the only one who remembers Bill Bowman fondly, a documentary about "the Bowman Body" called "Hi there horror movie fans" is having a run at the Byrd Theater in Richmond, VA on October 28. For more infomation, check the Bowman Body's official site.)
The movie was from 1963, a black and white horror tale about an astronaut's disembodied hand that crept around choking people. (How the hand/arm survived the re-entry process was, not as I remember, explained.)
I don't remember very much about the movie but I do know it scared the bejesus out of me. I remember hearing scuttling noises while taking a bath after I'd seen it and I knew, I just KNEW that there was a disembodied arm in a silvery astronaut suit sleeve just waiting, waiting for me. 
I looked the movie up on imdb and it looks like the only version of The Crawling Hand still available is one that MST3K has worked over. I find Mystery Theater kind of hit or miss, but again, this is the kind of movie that you throw on when you've had a couple of hard ciders and are jacked up on sugar  cookies shaped like pumpkins.  I think it's the kind of movie that you really need to see in a crowd so the snark can flow.
Peter Breck, who most notably played one of the sons on The Big Valley (and who died earlier this year at the age of 82) was the star and other names of note in the cast were  Alan Hale, Jr. (the "Skipper" in Gilligan's Island) and Richard Arlen, who did a lot of genre films, including Island of Lost Souls. He also seems to have been a guest star on every single western made in the 50s and 60s, including some now almost forgotten, like Yancy Derringer.  (An actor named Jock Mahoney starred in the series and he's notable now because he was Sally Field's stepfather.)
The movie was written and directed by Herbert L. Strock, who did a lot of television (77 Sunset Strip, Highway Patrol) and a lot of genre movies, including I Was a Teenage Frankenstein. That movie starred the original Lois Lane herself, Phyllis Coates, Whit Bissell and Gary Conway.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Halloween Movie Marathon: Sixth Sense

I used to walk my dog with a neighbor who was a union reader (aka "story analyst") at Paramount and inevitably, we talked about scripts we were reading, both good and bad. She'd been on the job longer than I had and was fairly jaded. But one morning she was full of praise for a script she'd read the night before and she told me the story. It sounded good to me too (especially since I'd just read the script for yet another misbegotten remake), but I didn't really think about that conversation until a summer night several years later when I was in Arizona and at a drive-in where Sixth Sense was showing. The moment it started I remembered hearing the plot and so I knew all the way through that Bruce Willis' character was dead.
I liked the movie anyway.
I liked the movie enough to see it again (something I rarely do) with my sister (who was not really a big movie fan). Several minutes into the movie, she leaned over to me. "Bruce Willis is dead," she said.
"How do you know?"
"When he opened the door there was no reflection in the doorknob."
I hadn't noticed that, but she was right.
And so she knew the twist of the movie all the way through and still liked it.
The movie doesn't really have a lot of scares in it. There's a shock moment when we see a girl who was murdered by her mother (the late Brittany Murphy) and another near the very, very end when the boy sees a dead person who's wandered off from an accident up ahead. What works in the movie is the relationship between Bruce Willis' character and the boy's, played by Haley Joel Osment. (Haley Joel Osment is 24 now, does that make you feel old? He was just 11 when he appeared in Sixth Sense.)
This is a movie you'd put on at the end of a marathon of Halloween movies to mellow everyone out before they head home.

Halloween Movie Marathon: Trilogy of Terror

This was a television movie that aired in 1975 and as the name suggests, it was a trio of stories strung together only by their star, Karen Black, who played different parts in each section. I only remember one thing about the movie and that's a scene where a creepy witch doctor doll chases Karen Black around with a knife-sized spear. If you ever saw the movie, you remember that scene (and probably not much else). I suspect watching the movie as an adult would be a very different experience. It's probably campy as hell and not scary at all, but I was scared to death.
Karen Black starred in Nashville the same year she did Trilogy of Terror, and she was also in Airport 1975. (Remember?  she was the plucky flight attendant who ends up landing the plane.) The year before, she'd played Myrtle Wilson in the Redford/Farrow Great Gatsby.  She's still working, and in fact has roles in three movies coming out in 2013.
The movie had a lot of geek cred--Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows) was the director and William F. Nolan (Logan's Run) wrote it.  Nolan also wrote the horror movie Burnt Offerings, which also starred Karen Black and was also directed by Dan Curtis. this is the kind of movie you put on in the background while decorating the house for a Halloween party. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Dakota does it in French

I'm reading Dakota Cassidy's Burning Down the Spouse and loving every page. She just posted the French cover of her book You Dropped a Blonde on Me, from her ex-trophy wife series or as they say in French, "Le club des ex."  The puppy in the pink bag kills me.
"Larguee" means something like "abandoned" but it may be an idiom. "Abandoned and recycled?" 

Halloween Movie Marathon--The Haunting

The 1963 version of The Haunting, based on Shirley Jackson's novel The Haunting of Hill House, is one of the scariest movies I've ever seen. And yet ... it's all done with dutch angles and music and suggestion. (That was not true of the remake from 1999. I was working at DreamWorks at the time the remake was released and we were shown the trailer during one of our story meetings. The trailer line was, "Some houses are born bad." I laughed out loud, was not the reaction they were looking for.)
I am a big, big fan of the novel, which I believe is flat out the best haunted house story written in the 20th century. If you haven't read it, give it to yourself as a Halloween present. It's a fast read and available used online at a zillion places.  And any reasonably stocked library should have it on their horror shelves as well.
the movie stars Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Russ Tamblyn, and Richard Johnson as the paranormal researcher. Of the four, Johnson had the lowest profile. He was a theater actor who'd mostly done television in England. (He's still working, and had a multi-episode arc on MI-5.) Russ Tamblyn had had a huge hit in West Side Story two years before this movie came out, but he worked mostly in television after that. (One high-profile gig was his role on Twin Peaks.) Julie Harris was a well respected stage actress whose breakout role had been recreating her part in A Member of the Wedding.  She was also in East of Eden and Requiem for a Heavyweight, playing "good girl" ingenue roles.  Like Tamblyn, she then divided her time between television and features and theater. (She was last on-screen in 2009.)
The movie is in black and white, and the lighting is moody and creepy. It was directed by Robert Wise, who also directed the classic The Day The Earth Stood Still, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, and the first of the Star Trek movies.
If you're putting together a night of Halloween movies, this movie should be in the mix.