Sunday, September 19, 2021

Interview with Michael Williams

 Copyright 2021 by Gary L. Pullman and Michael Williams

Michael Williams is the author of Twisted Tales, a superb series that consists, at present, of three volumes of flash fiction, Tales with a Twist, Tales with a Twist II, Tales with a Twist III, and Tales with a Twist IV. Besides writing, Michael especially enjoys sailing and “cultural exploration.” We're happy to share this interview on Chillers and Thrillers.


Q: What interests you in the super-short genre of flash fiction?

A: Alfred Hitchcock once said that a movie shouldn’t be longer than the capacity of the human bladder. I find I agree. Edgar Allan Poe considered the effect of short fiction to be more intense than that of longer works, such as novels or—my apologies to Hitch—full-length motion pictures. I also tend to concur with Poe: shorter fiction can pack more of an emotional wallop than longer forms. In our modern, fast-paced world, I think shorter fiction is also more convenient for many. A lot of people want complete stories without having to spend hours or days to read them.


Q: It seems that you prefer fantastic to realistic stories. Why is that?


A: Actually, I enjoy reading and writing all forms of fiction, but I think that tales of the fantastic, marvelous, and uncanny—handy distinctions that Tzvetan Todorov makes—add an element of magic to mundane experience, the icing, so to speak, on the cake. I also believe that, as Flannery O’Connor once said, a writer sometimes needs to use hyperbolic techniques to communicate with readers, and the shock of the surreal; the astonishment of the weird; and the wonder of the otherworldly, the supernatural, the occult, and the mystical provide these rhetorical approaches.

Q: As the titles of your books suggest, your tales are rather “twisted.” I'm going to ask the question most writers hate to hear: Where do you get your ideas?

 


A: I'm an eclectic reader. I enjoy learning about a variety of subjects. I guess you could say I'm a generalist. Sometimes, when the stars are in alignment, a remembered fact here will meet up with a recalled fact there, and, out of this connection of one thing and another, an idea will emerge. I might combine one of Thomas Edison’s inventions with the spiritualistic belief in the ability of the living to communicate with the dead, or I could update an ancient myth or a modern horror movie. As Arthur Golding wrote, in translating John Calvin, “All is grist for the mill.”


Q: I know you're something of a mariner. Does the sea ever feature in your stories?


A: Not as often as I might expect, but, yes, there is a sea tale or two. In one, the ocean solves a murder, which is rather a novel notion, I think.


Q: By definition, according to the title of your series, Twisted Tales, and by the titles of the books in the series, each of your flash fiction narratives contains a plot twist. How do you think up so many of them?

 


A: Usually, the story suggests one. However, I also employ a couple of tricks, or techniques—three, actually. First, when plotting a story such as those in Tales with a Twist, Tales with a Twist II, or Tales with a Twist III, I keep in mind the idea that almost everything has a direct opposite: new, old; lost, found; hero, villain; reward, punishment; rich, poor; right, wrong. Then, I start with one polarity and end with its opposite. The second way is more concrete. I keep a list of the plot twists I see in novels, short stories, movies, and TV series. Then, I adapt them to fit the situation or circumstances of my own stories. My third technique is to remember that there is a fine line not only between good and evil and right and wrong, but between all such polar opposites. A person who is cautious may become distrustful or even paranoid; a man who's strict can become controlling; a woman who's concerned with her own health and that of others—a doctor or a nurse, perhaps—can become a hypochondriac; a trusting person may become gullible. Each of these possibilities is a source of plot twists.


Q: How many of your tales with a twist are autobiographical?

A: Many of them are fantasies in which I explore how something might be if a particular set of unusual circumstances were to apply. Many of my stories are thought experiments, of a sort. I place a certain type of character in a particular kind of environment and see whether he or she adapts and, if the character does adapt, how he or she manages to do so. Frequently, the environment is physical, but it need not be; some of my stories' environments are philosophical, or moral, or psychological, or political, or cultural, or otherwise. The autobiographical element, when there is one, may be small—a detail here or there, the description of a place I've been, desires I've experienced, wishes I may have wanted to fulfill, thoughts or feelings or impressions I've had, that sort of thing, embedded in the narration, the exposition, or the dialogue.


Q: Let's talk a bit about some of the individual stories themselves. “Empty Pockets,” in Tales with a Twist, the first volume: where did that come from?

 


A: I remember reading about the childhood of Jeffrey Dahmer. By his own admission, he had nurturing parents and a good childhood. I never read anything that contradicted his assessments. Nevertheless, he turned out to be both a serial killer and a cannibal. I also remembered how, growing up, my brothers and I and the rest of the boys in our neighborhood carried a collection of odds and ends, some living, others inanimate, in our pockets. As a boy, what would a serial killer the likes of Dahmer of Ted Bundy be apt to carry in his pockets? What would his mother think if she discovered the contents of her son's pockets?


Q. To paraphrase someone we both know, out of a connection between a remembered fact here and a recalled fact there, a story arises, right?

A: Precisely.


Q: “A Living Hell,” in Tales with a Twist II, seems to be a satire on life insurance companies. Is that what you intended?

A: Partly, yes. But I also wanted to touch upon the narcissism of some who indulge in high-risk activities as well as examine the potential consequences of insuring oneself against hazardous escapades. It's as much a spoof on the behavior of those who pursue an adrenaline rush as it is a lampoon of insurance companies that will insure anything if the price of the premium is high enough.


Q: “Love Bite,” in Tales with a Twist III, is a neat take on the vampire tale. Can you give us an idea how it originated?

 

 

A: I wanted to start with the my-boyfriend-is-a-vampire trope, but in reverse, so the vampire is the girlfriend, and I added to that the additional trope of the boy's being an unpopular geek—not a literal geek, mind you, who bites heads off chickens, à la Ozzy Osbourne with the bat, but in the sense of being a nerd. So that raised the question, for me, of what this hot chick is doing with him as her boy toy. I thought of a couple of angles, but I think the one I decided on gives the story both its twist and its kick.


Q: It's certainly a story readers can sink their teeth into.

A: Wow! What a great blurb! Do you mind if I use it?


Q: (chuckles): Help yourself, Michael. “Spirits,” in Tales with a Twist IV, seems to be a cautionary tale. Do you intend it to be such?

A: I suppose it is, yes. Its theme, although not overt, or explicit, is discernible in the fact that the culprit’s addiction survives his death. On a figurative level, this situation suggests not how difficult it is to overcome one’s dependence on a drug, but also the degree to which such dependence can affect someone; the effects can persist beyond the person’s own existence, affecting the lives of others, including even people who are strangers to the deceased. I’m not sure all that was there, the meaning, before I wrote the story, but it is embedded in the finished tale.


Q: The epigraphs of some of the stories in the fourth and fifth volumes of Tales with a Twist mention other writers: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Frank R. Stockton, Emily Dickinson, Ovid, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allan Poe, for example; a couple of other stories’ epigraphs mention philosophers or artists as well: Paracelsus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Johan Wolfgang Mozart. Would you consider these individuals a major influence in your own work?

A: Let’s not forget Jonathan Edwards; he’s mentioned, too, indirectly, by way of the title of one of his sermons, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” I’d say that each of them, in his or her own way, has been, and remains, more or less influential and inspirational, as have many others, including H. G. Wells, Ray Bradbury, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Shirley Jackson, Ambrose Bierce, Bram Stoker, Ernest Hemingway, Ian Fleming, Daphne du Maurier, Lawrence Block, Bentley Little, Joyce Carol Oates, James Patterson, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Robert Sheckley, Mark Twain, and, of course, William Shakespeare. (Laughs.) I could go on and on. Each of them has taught me something vital about writing.


Q: Could we have an example, please?

 



A: I’ll give you a couple. Bradbury, a consummate wordsmith, taught me that poetry need not be restricted to verse, that prose itself can be poetic. His diction, but also his images, his metaphors, and his other figures of speech, give his writing cadence and rhythm, nuance and color, magic and wonder. Wells and Poe, at least equally adept in painting landscapes and interiors of horror, are also excellent practitioners of the both the art and craft of writing, painting in words what Edvard Munch, Hieronymus Bosch, H. R. Giger, Frida Kahlo, and Renee Magritte, to name a few, captured with pigments. From Poe, Sherwood Anderson, and Shirley Jackson, I learned the nature and the use of the grotesque.


Q: One final question, if I may?

A: Please.


Q: Will your Twisted Tales series have more Tales with a Twist?

A: I'm working on the next one now.


Saturday, September 18, 2021

Fun Times: Make Your Own Horror Movie Poster!

 Copyright 2021 by Gary L. Pullman

The website is PlaceIt. You start with a template that allows you to create a tagline, a caption, a film title, credits, a logo, and a release date. The template also lets you upload an image from your computer or use one of the ones already available on the template.

What the template doesn't do is offer tips on design; that's up to you.

However, by studying online images of actual horror posters, you can see how the pros design theirs.

Chillers and Thrillers also provides the following tips.


  • In the West, viewers, like readers, “read” (view) from left to right and top to bottom, in a “Z” pattern.

  • The focal point (almost always an image) is near (never at) the center of the poster, and the it stands out because it is the largest or brightest or most colorful (or, perhaps, the only colored) image in the poster.

  • The tagline may address the movie's theme, but it also often evokes an emotion appropriate to the film. Since the film we are addressing is a horror movie, the emotion would be anxiety, confusion, despair, doubt, fear, shock, or some other such emotion.

  • Often, a figure represents a menace of some sort: he or she might possess a weapon, might be stalking the other figure, might be lying in ambush to attack, might be grinning malevolently or madly.

  • Often, the setting is suggested, ans the background is frequently dark, even black. Settings tend to be remote. Sometimes, settings also suggest uncertain or precarious states, such as abandonment, helplessness, captivity, or isolation. (An abandoned house, for example, can evoke the sense of a character's having been abandoned or feeling abandoned.)

  • The caption may be a key to “unlock” the significance of the poster's imagery.

  • Artists often use metaphors, allusions, personifications, symbols, and other figures of speech, usually visually represented in images, to relate the situation shown in the poster to something that is both terrible and abstract, such as evil, madness, or death.

  • Color often both unifies the other elements of the poster (tagline, caption, film title, credits, logo, and a release date) while also leading the viewer's eye movement across and down the poster.

  • The poster should suggest the genre of the movie that the poster promotes: the viewer should be able to tell, instantly and clearly, that a horror movie poster refers to a horror movie, not a thriller of a science fiction or a fantasy movie (unless, of course, the poster refers to a film that is a hybrid of two or more genres, such as Alien, which is part-horror, part-science fiction).

     

These guidelines are enough to get you started, if you want to put them—and the Placeit template to work, creating your own horror movie poster, just for fun.

To use a blank template instead of replacing the text and images of the sample with your own and then downloading the completed result, you will have to sign up for a free account.

Here's one I did.


 



Monday, September 6, 2021

10 Bizarre Hand-painted Horror Movie Posters

 Copyright 2021 by Gary L. Pullman

 

 Artist Heavy J.( Source: Deadly Prey)

In the 1980s, Ghanaian entrepreneurs seized upon their country's recent importation of VCRs to show movies to members of neighborhood video clubs. Local artists who went by their first names or pseudonyms, including Leonardo, Heavy J, Farkira, Salvation, and Magasco, to name only a few, likewise benefited from these new enterprises, since club owners commissioned them to create original posters to advertise the films.

Using flour sacks for their canvasses, the painters offered their own garish interpretations of their subjects. Often combining violence and gore with bizarre interpretations of both Ghanaian movies and foreign films, including Hollywood blockbusters, the artists' work generated excitement about the movies, and the video clubs became huge hits.

Simple in design and execution, the outrageous hand-painted Ghana posters look nothing like the slick, mass-produced lobby cards seen in traditional movie theaters. Instead, the Ghana movie posters are truly one of a kind, offering those who may be unfamiliar with the nation's culture a window into the nature of Ghana's entertainment business, its local art, and the innovative nature of its entrepreneurs.

Cujo

Although Ghana posters advertise all film genres, many of the most shocking examples promote horror movies. Surprisingly, though, even movies that are designed to horrify are not always imagined as horrific by the Ghanaian artists who paint them, usually with little or no knowledge of the plots of the movies the posters are supposed to promote.

For Cujo, Lewis Teague's 1983 cinematic adaptation of Stephen King's 1981 novel of the same name, which pits a rabid St. Bernard against an isolated family, the theatrical release poster shows an isolated house under a dark, threatening sky; the neglected white picket fence in front of the distant residence bears, in dripping, blood-red paint, the warning, “Now there's a new name for terror: Cujo.”

 

Source: CNN

By contrast, the Ghanaian poster shows an adult female figure standing behind a male child. The sky is blue. An oversize dog, more closely resembling a Basset hound than a St. Bernard, lies across the bottom of the poster, the very picture of harmless calm—except for the blood slathering the canine's muzzle. Despite the blood, which appears almost an afterthought, the poster conveys more a sense of serenity and domestic bliss than it does an aura of dread and danger.

The reason for the differences in the theatrical release poster and its hand-painted counterpart is suggested by a question raised by writer Peter Shadbolt: “How would you design a movie poster for a Hollywood blockbuster you’d never seen, filled with characters you knew nothing about and actors you’d never heard of?” The Ghanaian Cujo poster is one answer to this question.

Fright Night

Such adjectives as “simple,” “unsophisticated,” “cartoonish,” “gaudy,” and “lurid” are often used to describe the strikingly original artwork displayed in Ghanaian movie posters. They were not intended to be masterpieces. Instead, they were commissioned with but one purpose. The artists paid to paint the posters were given much the same instruction as Frank Armah, who “began painting posters for Ghanaian movie theaters in the mid-1980s”; the goal of his posters was simple: “Sell as many tickets as possible.” The way to accomplish this objective was also simple: exaggerate. “If the movie was gory, the poster should be gorier (skulls, blood, skulls dripping blood). If it was sexy, make the poster sexier (breasts, lots of them, ideally at least watermelon-sized).

During the 1980s and 1990s, the posters sold the movies. Today, they are sold to collectors for as much as $2000 each and grace the walls of American and European art galleries. In addition, the “cult following” of the artists' fans keep the painters busy creating copies of the original posters for sale to eager customers.

The fact that the posters so little depict the contents of the films they promote is the reason that they are in such demand as collectibles, art dealer Ernie Wolfe believes. “These posters appeal to people because [they] invite this really incredible dialogue—a comparison between what you know of a film and how the painter imagined it. And they’re also just really good art.”

The Ghanaian poster for Fright Night (1985), directed by Tom Holland, is a good example of this poster-movie disconnect. The theatrical release poster shows a group of ghastly apparitions hovering over a house. Inside, framed by the residence's only illuminated window, the silhouette of a standing man is visible. Apparently, the resident is oblivious to the presence of the maniacal spirits raging above his house. The darkness of the night sky, illuminated only by stars and a full moon, the darkness of the man's silhouette, and the darkness of the shadowy lawn in front of the isolated house reinforce the poster's caption: “There are some good reasons to be afraid of the dark.”

Source: The Atlantic

One Ghanaian version shows neither apparitions, house, occupant, night sky, nor dark lawn. Instead, it depicts a winged serpent in a blue business suit, complete with bloodstained necktie. The creature's pair of scaly human hands, one red, the other orange, reach toward a blonde; the tip of its tongue, between her lips, drools blood. The claws of the scaly orange hand reach inside the woman's mouth. Her brow, face, and neck are lacerated and bleeding, and the flesh of her upper right arm is torn. A young man's head rests against her side. The movie's title appears above the man's head. There is no darkness—at least no literal darkness—of which to be afraid, and the woman looks more exhausted than horrified, despite her wounds.

Rituals

During the 1980s, the video clubs showed mostly imported movies (horror and splatter movies from the U. S., kung fu pictures from Hong Kong, cannibal films from Italy and France, and Bollywood comedy productions from India), but, beginning in the next decade, especially in Nigeria, the clubs included both Ghanaian and Nigerian films, with the establishment of the Ghallywood and Nollywood film industries.

This more local fare sometimes reflected historical conflicts between Christianity and local religions in which, often, the former displaced the latter. These movies had a proselytizing mission. To convert their audiences from “the natural religions,” the films depicted the spirits of the local religions as “evil forces,” such as demons, or “pagan” forces, such as those of voodoo, which were overcome by God or a Christian priest. Often, the churches themselves financed these films.

Other themes include human sacrifice; cannibalism; and evil deeds involving children as victims, “perpetrators,” and witches. One of the posters promoting Rituals, a Nollywood movie (director unknown) that includes references to human sacrifice, is typical of the sensationalism of the Ghanaian horror movie posters. The poster depicts a semi-nude man, bandoleers crossed over his chest, setting a large bowl containing a bloody, decapitated man's head on a table occupied by six human skulls and a human bone. No caption provides any hints as to the situation; the sole clue that viewers receive is that which is supplied by the film's title: the head, skulls, and bone, are involved in “rituals” of some sort. Only a reference, external to the poster itself, relates these rituals to human sacrifices.

Jurassic Park

 


While Ghanaian movie posters do not always depict the actual contents of the films they promote, this discrepancy is not considered a flaw among art collectors and experts. “They're not just film posters,” says Karun Thakar, the curator of the African Gaze exhibition in London, England. The exhibition showcased over a hundred posters that, along roads and in markets and other “public spaces,” advertised screenings of Bollywood, Nollywood, Ghallywood, and Hollywood films by “mobile video clubs.”

Like others of their kind, these Ghanaian movie posters were “gruesome and gaudy,” and they usually did not have much to do with the actual plots of the movies they promoted. They also zeroed in on films' minor elements rather than key features of the movies if such elements were provocative. For example, the poster promoting Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall (1990) focused on the prostitute with three breasts who appears in only one short scene of the film.

Even when the posters deigned to feature the movie's protagonist, the main character was often illustrated as performing an action that is unrelated to the movie's plot, and the scene frequently differs drastically from the images in the film itself. The Ghanaian poster for Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park (1993) is a good example. The poster “features a freakish dinosaur,” resembling a hybrid Tyrannosaurus Rex-brontosaurus—“gobbling up a man and a person playing golf, indicating that the artists painting these posters might not have seen the films.”

Mandy

Brian Chankin, the proprietor of a video rental store in Chicago, Illinois, is a fan of Ghanaian movie posters. He not only collects and sells them, but he has also commissioned quite a few original paintings by noted Ghanaian movie poster painters. Chankin tours the United States, showing his collections from the mobile art gallery he operates. In addition, he partners with Ghana artists who make “huge tattoo flash paintings in the same style as the movie posters.”

Although the movie posters themselves seldom reflect what the films they advertise show, that's not an issue for fans, nor are the posters' occasional “misspellings and plot inconsistencies.” What counts, for admirers and collectors, is the posters' “eye-catching” qualities. 

Proceeds from the sales of the shop's prints of original art and a book, Deadly Prey, featuring photographs of the “earliest commission paintings” and essays by Chankin, commission agent Robert Kofi, and Terry Zwigoff, director of Ghost World, Bad Santa, and other horror films, support “artists in Ghana.”

In the Ghanaian poster for Panos Cosmatos's Mandy (2018), the man with the amputated right arm, the slashed left arm holding a decapitated head, and the slashed left leg who flees a chainsaw-wielding killer and a man with a knife does not look exactly like Nicholas Cage. However, the poster otherwise succeeds in conveying at least the essence of the horror movie it promotes.

The film concerns a couple, Red Miller and Mandy Bloom, who are living alone in a forest when they are attacked by a cult of hippies and demonic bikers. The sadistic attacks motivate Red to strike back, and his vengeance is predictably terrible, violent, and bloody. Red's wounds, cult member Marlene's decapitated head, Brother Klopek and his chainsaw, and Klopek's accomplice and his knife, like the sliced head and the woman with the gaping hole in the center of her abdomen, suggest the orgy of violence that the movie presents, and, although the action is compacted in the collection of images, as if they occur simultaneously, rather than successively, the poster is mostly true to the picture's plot, a relative rarity among Ghanaian movie posters.

Night of the Demons 3

The studios in which Ghanaian artists worked were simple by the standards of the countries in which the films were produced that were shown by the video clubs, as were the facilities the entrepreneurs used to exhibit the imported pictures. A 2005 photograph of a Ghanaian artist known as Leonardo shows the painter seated in a plastic chair, cans of paints and other supplies on a shelf behind him or stacked against the wall below the shelf, in crates, a galvanized steel tub, and plastic trash bags. Wearing only overalls and flip-flops, he sweats in the heat of the day inside concrete walls decorated with words in red, blue, and green paint. His tools—a hammer, brushes, cans, and large rectangular cuts of cotton for use as his canvases—are visible among the other stored items.


In another photograph, one of Leonardo's colleagues, Heavy J., stands beside his poster for Jim Kaufman's Night of the Demons 3 (1997). In his vision of the movie, a male lamia, or snake man, is wound around a kneeling woman who frantically tries to remove the monster's coils. The creature holds its arms up, as if it is about to claw an attacker. The poster is displayed at the front of one of the video club's theaters, advising audiences that the movie is scheduled to be shown at “6:30 PM.” The single bench shown in the photograph suggests the nature of the theater's seating, which is confirmed by other photographs apparently typical of the arrangements of seats.

In another photograph, a showing of a movie is seen in progress in Tema, Ghana. An audience of nine are present. Two stand, their hands raised overhead; the others sit, one or two to a bench, several with their hands raised as well, and all watch the television set on a high shelf inside a cabinet. Although plenty of seats remain along the six half-empty benches visible in the photograph, those in attendance seem to be enjoying the picture.

The Guardian

Source: Ernie Wolfe Gallery

The Ernie Wolfe Gallery is an online exhibition hall on which “Golden Age Hand-Painted Movie Posters from Ghana” are on perpetual display. The collections show a variety of film genres, including horror, which seems as popular with Ghanaian audiences as it is with other moviegoers across the globe. Since the artists typically painted the posters of the movies to be presented before the films were actually shown to video clubs’ audiences, their art is almost always strikingly different than the actual movies the posters supposedly represent, offering viewers fresh perspectives on the films themselves. Although often lurid, the art is also highly imaginative.

Source:  Ernie Wolfe Gallery

The poster for William Friedkin's The Guardian (1990), features a personified tree that attacks adults and children alike. One victim hangs from a branch. Another struggles to free himself from the mouth in the tree's trunk. A third, armed with a chainsaw, the blade of which is smeared with blood from one of the tree's uncanny roots, is entangled in a looped branch, from which the party's fourth victim, while lying on the ground, wound in the coils of another branch, seeks to free him. The poster suggests that the movie is about an animated and malevolent forest. In reality, although a somewhat similar scene occurs in the film, the picture is about a nanny whom a young couple hire to care for their newborn baby—a nanny who is also a goddess intent upon protecting her domain.

Braindead

Besides the fact that Ghanaian artists often did not know, in any detail, if at all, what a movie actually showed, they were also handicapped by the facts that they did not have access to the foreign studios' posters for the movies or to reproductions of the original posters, since Ghana's “military rulers restricted the import of printing presses.”

To get prospective audiences into the buildings and tents in which the video clubs' cinematic offerings would be shown, local artists were instructed to pull out all the stops. They did so, starting with the dimensions of the paintings. Like the style of the art itself, the “canvases” the artists cut from flour sacks were larger than life, measuring “40 to 50 inches in width, and 55 to 70 inches in height.”

The artists were so successful in selling the movies that, “by the 1990s, the height of the movie club business, several dozen artists were employed to produce the posters.” By the 2000s, the demand for video clubs began to disappear, since “home viewing became more widespread and printing became more practical than commissioning original artworks.”

 

During the heyday of Ghanaian movie poster production, however, some truly fantastic, if bizarre, works were created, including artist Salvation’s poster for Braindead (1992), directed by Peter Jackson, which suggests the bloodbath that ensues when a woman who dies, after having been bitten by a Sumatran monkey, returns to life to feed on both animals and people, including her former friends and neighbors.

Source: Deadly Prey

Salvation's poster features a Lon Chaney look-alike with fangs and a missing eye, a pale ghoul spewing green bile, a beast that resembles a cross between a dog and a monkey, and a gang of vampires in pursuit of a brawny man wielding a sword. With no reference to the movie's plot in the artist's picture, potential viewers would likely have plenty of questions about the scene Salvation depicts, which is just what the video club owners would have wanted in commissioning the work.

Species

How might Roger Donaldson's Species (1995) be interpreted by an artist who had not seen the film? Thanks to the survival of the Ghanaian movie poster for this movie, we do not have to wonder.

 

Source: Wikiart

Although there is no evidence that the poster's painter knew of Rene Magritte's surreal paintings, the poster for Species resembles Magritte's oil painting The Harvest (1943). Just as Magritte paints the figure of his reclining female nude in several colors, with arms of different hues, a head of a tint that matches no other part of the figure's body, and legs of mismatched shades, the body of the Ghanaian artist's blonde-haired female alien is various shades of blue, green, and peach.

The painting's surreal quality is also evident in the inclusion of the naked man who crawls on his knees, eating one rat as he wraps his impossibly long, slender tongue around a second rodent. Although the poster's art has virtually nothing to do with the plot of the film it promotes, the warning presented by its caption, “Men cannot resist her; mankind cannot survive her,” is probably true enough.

Cannibal Terror

A largely panned French contribution to the fare the video clubs showed was the 1981 film Cannibal Terror directed by Alain Deruelle. The plot is simple. After their kidnapping goes awry, two inept kidnappers, Mario and Roberto, hole up in a friend's house in the jungle. In the process, Mario rapes the friend's wife. (With friends like these, who needs enemies, right?) Afterward, the criminals encounter a tribe of hungry cannibals.

The plot doesn't seem to have given the artist much with which to work, but the painter made the most of what he had, showing one of the criminals lying on the ground, on his back, as three members of the tribe, seated beneath the tree, dig in. One munches on the victim's calf; another devours his left forearm; and the third chows down on a length of intestines that he pulls from the gaping cavity carved into the dead man's abdomen. It's a bloody feast, and the rapist's vital fluid dribbles down his severed limbs, his slit-open belly, the stump of his amputated left leg, and the chests of those who make a meal of him. Despite the movie’s meager plot, the film rewards its audiences with plenty of blood and gore, according to the poster, at least.

 

Ghanaian movie poster artists (left to right):Salvation, Heavy J, Mr, Nana Agyq, Fakira, and Stoger

Source: Nerdist

Unfortunately, the artists who created these lurid masterpieces of tasteless, often violent and gory art, were probably underpaid, since their work took them as many as three days, “depending on the subject matter and what the artist could find out about the movie.” To expedite the painting process, artists relied on such “well-worn tropes [as] snake women, skeletons, zombies, witchcraft, and even the occasional giant fish” and sometimes mixed images from one movie with those of another film.

 



Saturday, July 31, 2021

Recommended Reading

Copyright 2021 by Gary L. Pullman

 

 

Ambrose Bierce: “The Damned Thing,” “A Tough Tussle

Bierce's ideas are original and intriguing. He also reveals aspects of horror that aren't always apparent in seemingly ordinary, if sometimes also terrible, incidents and situations.

William Peter Blatty: The Exorcist

I read this novel when I was twenty; then, I saw the movie. Both are first-rate excursions into terror. Blatty's literary art is discernible even in his metaphors.

Ray Bradbury: “Heavy-Set,” “The Veldt,” “The Foghorn”

A poetic writer who is especially adept at imagery and symbolism, Bradbury writes tales are sometimes that are much “deeper” than they might sometimes first appear.

Kate Chopin: “The Story of an Hour”

In the hands of a skilled writer, an imagined anecdote can be a powerful transmitter of both feminist angst and horror.

Sir Winston Churchill: “Man Overboard

Churchill echoes the existential despair of Stephen Crane's The Open Boat” in this much more economical, if not as layered, tale of the sea.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge: The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, “Kubla Khan”

In teaching a lesson about respecting life, Coleridge also teaches readers about crafting a well-told horrific tale and shows, in the process, his own poetic genius.

Stephen Crane: “The Open Boat”

Crane's story reflects not only the traditional categories of narrative conflict, but also a fourth, man vs. God, which is echoed in Sir Winston Churchill's short story Man Overboard.

Charles Dickens: “The Signal-Man”

For the background to this horrific short story, see my Listverse listicle, 10 Classic Stories Inspired by True Events.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman: “The Yellow Wallpaper”

For the background to this horrific short story, see my Listverse listicle, 10 Classic Stories Inspired by True Events.

 Nathaniel Hawthorne: “The Birthmark,” “Rappacinni's Daughter”

For the background to “The Birthmark,” see my Listverse listicle, 10 Classic Stories Inspired by True Events.

 O. Henry: “The Ransom of Red Chief,” “The Gift of the Magi”

Many horror stories end with a twist. Although his tales are not horror stories, O. Henry is a master at creating such ironic endings.

Shirley Jackson: “The Lottery,” “An Ordinary Day, with Peanuts,” “Trial by Combat

Slice-of-life fiction becomes horrific in
“An Ordinary Day, with Peanuts.”

W. W. Jacobs: “The Monkey's Paw”

A true classic of horror!

Stephen King: 'Salem's Lot, Desperation

As in Frank Peretti's Monster and Dean Koontz's The Taking, God makes a cameo appearance in King's Desperation. (Other Christian authors on this list include Flannery O'Connor and William Peter Blatty.)

Dean Koontz: Phantoms, The Taking

Is the horror of The Taking an account of an alien invasion or something even more sinister?

D. H. Lawrence: “The Snake” and “The Odour of Chrysanthemums

In “The Snake,” we meet a god of the underworld; in reading “The Odour of Chrysanthemums,” I understood why the scent of roses reminds me of death.

Bentley Little: The Revelation, Dominion

Although,  like Stephen King's later fiction, Little's novels often fall apart at the end, the beginning and the middle are captivating and frequently alternate between frightening and being exceedingly eerie.

H. P. Lovecraft: “The Lurking Fear

Lovecraft does not disappoint in this story or in most of his other work. He brought a new perspective to horror fiction, which is not an easy accomplishment.

Daphne du Maurier: “The Birds”

Any writer whose story Alfred Hitchcock picked as the basis of one of his movies has to be a master of suspense.

Robert McCammon: Swan Song, Stinger

Although I later lost my taste for McCammon, his early novels are entertaining.

Saki (H. H. Munro): “The Open Window”

Like O. Henry, Saki sure knows how to twist a plot. In the process, he also reveals character concisely and very well.

Joyce Carol Oates: “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”

Reading this story is a bit like watching a music video featuring a psychopathic musician and his groupie victim.

Flannery O'Connor: “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”

Although she is not a horror writer per se,  O'Connor, something of a Christian, female Edgar Allan Poe, shouts and draws big pictures for a reason.

Frank Peretti: Monster

Peretti's skill as a writer shows in many ways, not the least of which, in this novel, is his mapping of the monstrous. 

Edgar Allan Poe: “The Cask of the Amontillado,” “Hop-Frog,” “Berenice,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Premature Burial

I might have included all  of Poe's works.

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child: Relic, Crimson Shore

Relic is nothing less than a terrific, terrifying tour de force. Crimson Shore, intriguing for its setting, characters, and situation, is often more suspenseful than frightening, but it is also a fast read.

William Shakespeare: Titus Andronicus, Hamlet, King Lear

Critics are right: Titus Andronicus is certainly Shakespeare's worst play, but, hey, it's still Shakespeare (and it's truly horrific as well). Hamlet is unforgettable, and King Lear is part horrifying, part terrifying, and entirely tragic.

Dan Simmons: Subterranean

This novel is simply harrowing.

Craig Spector and John Skipp: The Light at the End

A Barlow-type creature of the night seems to have somehow slipped his way between the covers of John Godey's (Morton Freedgood's) 1973 thriller The Taking of Pelham 123. It's good fun, amid the splatter of blood and gore.

Bram Stoker: “The Judge's House,” “The Burial of the Rats,” “Dracula's Guest”

All of these short stories show, in miniature, the mastery of both writing and horror that are later exhibited more fully in Dracula.

Rabindranath Tagore: “The Hungry Stones”

At first, puzzling, Tagore's exotic tale is finally downright spooky.

Mark Twain: “Mrs. McWilliams and the Lightning,” “Mrs. McWilliams and the Burglar Alarm,” “The Invalid's Story”

No, Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) is not a horror writer, but he could have been!

H. G. Wells: “The Cone,” “The Red Room”

If you never fully appreciated Wells's artistry, both of these stories will show you that the man was the equivalent of an impressionistic painter who used words, instead of brushes, on pages, rather than on canvases. Wells is a true master!

Oscar Wilde: The Picture of Dorian Gray

Wilde's novel, like so many others, is far better than the movie adaptations of it. Everything complements everything else: plot, characters, setting, theme, and tone.

William Butler Yeats: “Leda and the Swan,” “The Second Coming

More suggestive than definitive, Yeats's poems are often intimations of terror that escapes even his mastery of the language; his poems haunt their readers--haunt them and, maybe, change them. (You have been warned!)

Note: For additional writers of horror, you may wish to consult https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_horror_fiction_writers


Paranormal vs. Supernatural: What’s the Diff?

Copyright 2009 by Gary L. Pullman

Sometimes, in demonstrating how to brainstorm about an essay topic, selecting horror movies, I ask students to name the titles of as many such movies as spring to mind (seldom a difficult feat for them, as the genre remains quite popular among young adults). Then, I ask them to identify the monster, or threat--the antagonist, to use the proper terminology--that appears in each of the films they have named. Again, this is usually a quick and easy task. Finally, I ask them to group the films’ adversaries into one of three possible categories: natural, paranormal, or supernatural. This is where the fun begins.

It’s a simple enough matter, usually, to identify the threats which fall under the “natural” label, especially after I supply my students with the scientific definition of “nature”: everything that exists as either matter or energy (which are, of course, the same thing, in different forms--in other words, the universe itself. The supernatural is anything which falls outside, or is beyond, the universe: God, angels, demons, and the like, if they exist. Mad scientists, mutant cannibals (and just plain cannibals), serial killers, and such are examples of natural threats. So far, so simple.

What about borderline creatures, though? Are vampires, werewolves, and zombies, for example, natural or supernatural? And what about Freddy Krueger? In fact, what does the word “paranormal” mean, anyway? If the universe is nature and anything outside or beyond the universe is supernatural, where does the paranormal fit into the scheme of things?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word “paranormal,” formed of the prefix “para,” meaning alongside, and “normal,” meaning “conforming to common standards, usual,” was coined in 1920. The American Heritage Dictionary defines “paranormal” to mean “beyond the range of normal experience or scientific explanation.” In other words, the paranormal is not supernatural--it is not outside or beyond the universe; it is natural, but, at the present, at least, inexplicable, which is to say that science cannot yet explain its nature. The same dictionary offers, as examples of paranormal phenomena, telepathy and “a medium’s paranormal powers.”

Wikipedia offers a few other examples of such phenomena or of paranormal sciences, including the percentages of the American population which, according to a Gallup poll, believes in each phenomenon, shown here in parentheses: psychic or spiritual healing (54), extrasensory perception (ESP) (50), ghosts (42), demons (41), extraterrestrials (33), clairvoyance and prophecy (32), communication with the dead (28), astrology (28), witchcraft (26), reincarnation (25), and channeling (15); 36 percent believe in telepathy.

As can be seen from this list, which includes demons, ghosts, and witches along with psychics and extraterrestrials, there is a confusion as to which phenomena and which individuals belong to the paranormal and which belong to the supernatural categories. This confusion, I believe, results from the scientism of our age, which makes it fashionable for people who fancy themselves intelligent and educated to dismiss whatever cannot be explained scientifically or, if such phenomena cannot be entirely rejected, to classify them as as-yet inexplicable natural phenomena. That way, the existence of a supernatural realm need not be admitted or even entertained. Scientists tend to be materialists, believing that the real consists only of the twofold unity of matter and energy, not dualists who believe that there is both the material (matter and energy) and the spiritual, or supernatural. If so, everything that was once regarded as having been supernatural will be regarded (if it cannot be dismissed) as paranormal and, maybe, if and when it is explained by science, as natural. Indeed, Sigmund Freud sought to explain even God as but a natural--and in Freud’s opinion, an obsolete--phenomenon.

Meanwhile, among skeptics, there is an ongoing campaign to eliminate the paranormal by explaining them as products of ignorance, misunderstanding, or deceit. Ridicule is also a tactic that skeptics sometimes employ in this campaign. For example, The Skeptics’ Dictionary contends that the perception of some “events” as being of a paranormal nature may be attributed to “ignorance or magical thinking.” The dictionary is equally suspicious of each individual phenomenon or “paranormal science” as well. Concerning psychics’ alleged ability to discern future events, for example, The Skeptic’s Dictionary quotes Jay Leno (“How come you never see a headline like 'Psychic Wins Lottery'?”), following with a number of similar observations:

Psychics don't rely on psychics to warn them of impending disasters. Psychics don't predict their own deaths or diseases. They go to the dentist like the rest of us. They're as surprised and disturbed as the rest of us when they have to call a plumber or an electrician to fix some defect at home. Their planes are delayed without their being able to anticipate the delays. If they want to know something about Abraham Lincoln, they go to the library; they don't try to talk to Abe's spirit. In short, psychics live by the known laws of nature except when they are playing the psychic game with people.
In An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural, James Randi, a magician who exercises a skeptical attitude toward all things alleged to be paranormal or supernatural, takes issue with the notion of such phenomena as well, often employing the same arguments and rhetorical strategies as The Skeptic’s Dictionary.

In short, the difference between the paranormal and the supernatural lies in whether one is a materialist, believing in only the existence of matter and energy, or a dualist, believing in the existence of both matter and energy and spirit. If one maintains a belief in the reality of the spiritual, he or she will classify such entities as angels, demons, ghosts, gods, vampires, and other threats of a spiritual nature as supernatural, rather than paranormal, phenomena. He or she may also include witches (because, although they are human, they are empowered by the devil, who is himself a supernatural entity) and other natural threats that are energized, so to speak, by a power that transcends nature and is, as such, outside or beyond the universe. Otherwise, one is likely to reject the supernatural as a category altogether, identifying every inexplicable phenomenon as paranormal, whether it is dark matter or a teenage werewolf. Indeed, some scientists dedicate at least part of their time to debunking allegedly paranormal phenomena, explaining what natural conditions or processes may explain them, as the author of The Serpent and the Rainbow explains the creation of zombies by voodoo priests.

Based upon my recent reading of Tzvetan Todorov's The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to the Fantastic, I add the following addendum to this essay.

According to Todorov:

The fantastic. . . lasts only as long as a certain hesitation [in deciding] whether or not what they [the reader and the protagonist] perceive derives from "reality" as it exists in the common opinion. . . . If he [the reader] decides that the laws of reality remain intact and permit an explanation of the phenomena described, we can say that the work belongs to the another genre [than the fantastic]: the uncanny. If, on the contrary, he decides that new laws of nature must be entertained to account for the phenomena, we enter the genre of the marvelous (The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, 41).
Todorov further differentiates these two categories by characterizing the uncanny as “the supernatural explained” and the marvelous as “the supernatural accepted” (41-42).

Interestingly, the prejudice against even the possibility of the supernatural’s existence which is implicit in the designation of natural versus paranormal phenomena, which excludes any consideration of the supernatural, suggests that there are no marvelous phenomena; instead, there can be only the uncanny. Consequently, for those who subscribe to this view, the fantastic itself no longer exists in this scheme, for the fantastic depends, as Todorov points out, upon the tension of indecision concerning to which category an incident belongs, the natural or the supernatural. The paranormal is understood, by those who posit it, in lieu of the supernatural, as the natural as yet unexplained.

And now, back to a fate worse than death: grading students’ papers.

My Cup of Blood

Anyone who becomes an aficionado of anything tends, eventually, to develop criteria for elements or features of the person, place, or thing of whom or which he or she has become enamored. Horror fiction--admittedly not everyone’s cuppa blood--is no different (okay, maybe it’s a little different): it, too, appeals to different fans, each for reasons of his or her own. Of course, in general, book reviews, the flyleaves of novels, and movie trailers suggest what many, maybe even most, readers of a particular type of fiction enjoy, but, right here, right now, I’m talking more specifically--one might say, even more eccentrically. In other words, I’m talking what I happen to like, without assuming (assuming makes an “ass” of “u” and “me”) that you also like the same. It’s entirely possible that you will; on the other hand, it’s entirely likely that you won’t.

Anyway, this is what I happen to like in horror fiction:

Small-town settings in which I get to know the townspeople, both the good, the bad, and the ugly. For this reason alone, I’m a sucker for most of Stephen King’s novels. Most of them, from 'Salem's Lot to Under the Dome, are set in small towns that are peopled by the good, the bad, and the ugly. Part of the appeal here, granted, is the sense of community that such settings entail.

Isolated settings, such as caves, desert wastelands, islands, mountaintops, space, swamps, where characters are cut off from civilization and culture and must survive and thrive or die on their own, without assistance, by their wits and other personal resources. Many are the examples of such novels and screenplays, but Alien, The Shining, The Descent, Desperation, and The Island of Dr. Moreau, are some of the ones that come readily to mind.

Total institutions as settings. Camps, hospitals, military installations, nursing homes, prisons, resorts, spaceships, and other worlds unto themselves are examples of such settings, and Sleepaway Camp, Coma, The Green Mile, and Aliens are some of the novels or films that take place in such settings.

Anecdotal scenes--in other words, short scenes that showcase a character--usually, an unusual, even eccentric, character. Both Dean Koontz and the dynamic duo, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, excel at this, so I keep reading their series (although Koontz’s canine companions frequently--indeed, almost always--annoy, as does his relentless optimism).

Atmosphere, mood, and tone. Here, King is king, but so is Bentley Little. In the use of description to terrorize and horrify, both are masters of the craft.

A bit of erotica (okay, okay, sex--are you satisfied?), often of the unusual variety. Sex sells, and, yes, sex whets my reader’s appetite. Bentley Little is the go-to guy for this spicy ingredient, although Koontz has done a bit of seasoning with this spice, too, in such novels as Lightning and Demon Seed (and, some say, Hung).

Believable characters. Stephen King, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and Dan Simmons are great at creating characters that stick to readers’ ribs.

Innovation. Bram Stoker demonstrates it, especially in his short story “Dracula’s Guest,” as does H. P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Shirley Jackson, and a host of other, mostly classical, horror novelists and short story writers. For an example, check out my post on Stoker’s story, which is a real stoker, to be sure. Stephen King shows innovation, too, in ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining, It, and other novels. One might even argue that Dean Koontz’s something-for-everyone, cross-genre writing is innovative; he seems to have been one of the first, if not the first, to pen such tales.

Technique. Check out Frank Peretti’s use of maps and his allusions to the senses in Monster; my post on this very topic is worth a look, if I do say so myself, which, of course, I do. Opening chapters that accomplish a multitude of narrative purposes (not usually all at once, but successively) are attractive, too, and Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are as good as anyone, and better than many, at this art.

A connective universe--a mythos, if you will, such as both H. P. Lovecraft and Stephen King, and, to a lesser extent, Dean Koontz, Bentley Little, and even Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have created through the use of recurring settings, characters, themes, and other elements of fiction.

A lack of pretentiousness. Dean Koontz has it, as do Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, Bentley Little, and (to some extent, although he has become condescending and self-indulgent of late, Stephen King); unfortunately, both Dan Simmons and Robert McCammon have become too self-important in their later works, Simmons almost to the point of becoming unreadable. Come on, people, you’re writing about monsters--you should be humble.

Longevity. Writers who have been around for a while usually get better, Stephen King, Dan Simmons, and Robert McCammon excepted.

Pacing. Neither too fast nor too slow. Dean Koontz is good, maybe the best, here, of contemporary horror writers.


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