Monday, December 30, 2013

My "Best of" list for 2013...sort of...

Okay, so everybody does it...they make lists of stuff for people to compare and maybe even find a few "gems" to look in to for themselves. It is sort of the easy way out. So I want to make my list at least seem a little different. To that end, here are my top 10 highlights of the year. These can be anything from books to movies, to music. I want to make a mishmash of stuff that made my year fun or enjoyable on a consumer level. So before any of you think me too shallow, these are not the ten best "events" of my year...that would include things like my week long camping trip in the Oregon Coast Range, Denise's surprise birthday party, attending an all 80s tribute band night featuring tribute bands Unchained (Van Halen) and Poisin'us (duh...Poison), and time with my daughter, Ronni. Just wanted to be clear...

So, without further delay, here they are...and NO, they are not in any order.

10.) Miami Spy Games by Armand Rosamilia: This story is SO under appreciated. It is a wonderfully crafted tale that certainly deserves a look if you have not yet done so.

9.) The Crazy Ones: And stick around at the end of the episode for the is great to see Sarah getting nutty with Robin.

8.)  Assassins Creed IV: As a fan of pirates, this "sandbox" game gives you an open world where you can spend hours talking like a pirate! "Heave to, me trumps! Arrgh!"

7.) White Trash Zombies: Diana Rowland has something funny going on in the Bayou. If you are in the mood for some zombie fun with a gal who could be Ava's new BFF...this is a series worth giving a shot at. I have a new way to use my credit of the month.

6.) Frozen: I admit it...I am an animated movie junkie. I love Disney films. Frozen is one of the best in a long time. Denise and I had a blast seeing this.

5.) Meet the Millers: Despite how much of a mystery it is to me that Jennifer Anniston can't keep a man around...she was Hot AND funny in this movie...

4.) John O'Brien's A New World: Conspiracy: This is John's best piece to date. His writing has gotten even better and this effort was his best by far. I know his series may not be everybody's cup of tea, but you should give it a try if you want a military thriller...with...not zombies...these are Night Runners...scary on a different level.

3.) Rocksmith 2014. Since my band days are over, but I still want to play my guitar...this is the answer. Besides...who wants to push buttons and call that "guitar playing". And no, I won't apologize to you Rock Band types who think there is any accomplishment in adding a fifth button to your plastic guitar. I will stick to the REAL thing!:

2.) "Extreme" running events: Now that I have my first "Warrior Dash" under my belt...2014 will be the year of transformation for me. I am re-committing myself to a fitness regime like never before. Stick around as I keep you posted on my attempts at Insane Maniac, a return to the Warrior Dash...and the event I am most excited about "The Spartan Run". This race has a VERY HIGH drop out rate and is not "just for fun".

I can't wait!

1.) Sleepy Hollow. I know it may not be for everybody, but I am REALLY enjoying this new series. It is a perfect mix of scary/funny/thriller.

And there are my top ten diversions. If I am not writing...chances are I am involved in something relatted to one of the above. Have a safe and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Claire comes to share...find out why today matters.

You came here to meet the lovely and talented Claire C. Riley, author of Odium, so I will just get out of the way and let her tell you why she is not just another pretty face.

What are some of the best and worst things about being an author?
The worst is that damn empty page. It freaks me out every single time. It’s so empty and I swear it’s mocking me.
But then it’s also the best thing too. I mean, the empty page represents so much: the possibilities are endless when you’re faced with that big scary white abyss.

What are some of the lessons you have learned as a writer that caught you off guard?
How vicious some people can be. It’s a murky world out there. In the same regard, I’ve also been touched by how kind some people can be. I always try to go out of my way to help people, but not everyone is like that. I guess I was very naïve when I started out. People promise you things and then never hold up their end of the bargain.

What can you share about your writing process with new or up and coming writers?
Edit, edit, edit, take a break, and then edit some more. Seriously, try and get an editor. It’s so important. Some readers aren’t too fussy when it comes to grammar and punctuation, but others are very critical on it. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just something that you should be very aware of.
Personally, I think that ANYTHING that pulls a reader out of your story is a bad thing. Well, if they have to take a vomit break because you just write a particularly disgusting scene, I guess THAT’S okay.

If you were to change genres, what would be your next choice?
Well I read pretty much anything. I love all genres, except sci-fi, I just can’t get into that, but anything else is a go. My first novel Limerence is a dark paranormal romance so I think I could take out the paranormal element and go straight to romance/erotica. I love writing zombie books though. That’s my favourite. The freedom that it evokes is fantastic. As long as you do your research on the technical things, then literally ANYTHING goes, and that really gets my imagination going.

What could traditional publishing learn from the Indies? And how about the other way around?
I think that traditional publishers need to look at it this way. If an Indie writer can write, publish, market, and earn decent royalties on their books, then I think that publishers are going to have to start offering something more worthwhile than just their publishing house logo on a book. What relevance do they hold other than the gratification that you were traditionally signed?
However, a lot of Indie writers need to take a look at what traditional publishers do in regards to cover and editing. A lot of books are rushed out without a full edit and shoddy covers, and it’s a shame because the story is actually so damn good. That’s where traditional publishing comes in. They take their time. They have proofreaders and copyeditors, and it goes through many, many hands and gets lots of eyes on it before it goes up for sale.
I don’t think that people realise how important a cover is, and how it has to look good in thumbnail as well as large.

The writing community can be its own worst enemy at times. What are some of the issues you see cropping up? Solutions?
Bitching and backstabbing can be a huge problem that I’ve personally seen happen to a lot of writers. I think it’s hard over the internet though, things can be taken the wrong way. Social media has opened up a world of possibilities for both readers and writers, but it’s tricky to navigate it and not put your foot in it. That and people like to hide behind the security of the internet, and think they can get away with anything.
The important thing I think is that writers should be sticking together—working together. If X has 300 readers who enjoy zombie horror, it makes sense that Y who has 300 fans should help X and then X can help Y. You literally swap readers. It’s a win-win for everyone. The reader gets a new author, and the authors reach new fans. But then I could just be getting confused with algebra here?

The social media is…
An amazing possibility for readers and writers to connect with each other when once they wouldn’t normally be able to. It can also be as confusing as watching your Aunt Nelly dressed as Frank from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, drinking a large Scotch out of a hip flask and dancing the Copacabana on a Sunday evening.

Share some information about your work with us: 
Well, I write dark paranormal romances, zombie horror, and generally anything a bit different. I like to write old school horror mostly, you know, when vampires were Bram Stoker esq and zombies were slow and shambling. I like to write very character driven stories, and take readers by surprise, so that the reader feels something strong for each and every character, but never knows if I’m going to kill them off. I like books that surprise me, and that’s something that I try to do in my own writing. Catch the reader unaware. I also have a very sarcastic and dry sense of humour so I throw a bucket load of that in at inappropriate times too. Not that I ever intentionally tried to be funny, but it’s just my thought process. Many of the things that my characters think come straight out of my ‘things Claire shouldn’t say out loud’ bin. (Everybody has one of those, right?)
I have a couple of short stories and two full length novels out at the moment. My first novel is Limerence. It’s a dark paranormal romance. Think vampires but when they were scary and dangerous.
My second novel is Odium. It’s a dystopian, post-apocalyptic zombie novel. I had so much fun writing it, and I think or I hope that it shows. It’s old school zombies, you know the ones, slow, shambling and brain eating. Well, generally anything eating, but I think they like brains the most.
I’m also just about to publish Odium Origins. A Dead Saga Novella. Part One. (That comes out on the 27th December)

What is one question you are sick of being asked—not in interviews, but by individuals who know you write?
Why do you want to write about ‘dead things?’ followed by an eye-roll.
I mean seriously, why do you like cheese? Why do you hate skinny jeans? Of course there’s things you can say, ‘well I like the taste of cheese, and my butt looks great in these jeans’, but we also know that the cheese clogs your arteries and makes your breathe stink and the jeans may make your butt look good, but they are not comfy at all. So there’s a downside to the things you like too. You like them because that’s just who you are. I like writing about the dark and creepy, and the ‘dead things’ because although the scare the crap out of me, they fascinate me too. They give me a bad taste while I’m reading or writing them because they cross the boundaries that you’re not supposed to cross, but damn it’s fun. So yeah, people who ask me that question, there’s your answer, don’t ask it me again, ha!

How do you deal with negative reviews?
Pitifully. I wail, and cry, stamp my foot and… Ha, no really, I don’t mind. Of course I want everyone to love my books, but everyone has to have an opinion, and I’m grateful to hear all of them. Sometimes I want to explain things to the reader, things that they have pointed out as an error and I know for a FACT isn’t, but then it can come across as argumentative, so it’s best to thank them and walk away graciously.
It would be a boring world if everyone thought the same way.

How much reading do you get in, and can a writer excel at his or her craft if they do not read?
Just my personal opinion, but I think a writer needs to read to grow in their expertise. They learn as they read, by picking up tips and ideas, new styles of writing. And it keeps the mind active and the imagination gates open.
I read a lot. Probably not as much as some, but I’ve read maybe 50 books this year of varying genres. I think considering I’m a mother of three young children (8,7 & 2) a wife, I work and I write, I don’t think that’s a bad number at all.
Of course, that’s just my opinion.

When does self-promotion cross the line and become a nuisance?
When it’s just post after post in every single group of ‘buy my book’ It’s just irritating, and does anyone really read those things?
I try to be reader when I’m promoting, and think about what I would like to see. On my author page and blog I promote other writers, and I try to share tips, daft pictures, free books, sales, cover reveals etc I want my readers to be happy, and I love pimping others work out. It’s not just about saying ‘buy my book’ it’s about showing that you read and basically give a shit about the skill that’s involved in producing a novel. Social media has made it so that readers can connect with their authors, and they don’t want to find out that you’re an asshole.

What projects are you currently working on?
I just finished working on Odium Origins. A Dead Saga Novella. Part One. It’s part of the Odium brand, and is an accompaniment to Odium. I’m now working on the sequel to Odium, which I hope to get out around March/April and the sequel to my first book Limerence. There will also be a second Odium Origins book after the release of the Odium sequel.
I also have a crime horror novel which keeps bating me to write it, and about a million and one short stories I really want to get out at some point next year, I just need to find anthologies to put them in.

What is one thing about you that would surprise the readers who do not know you personally?
Ummm, I guess that I’m really shy. Extremely. But I talk and ramble and swear like a sailor when I’m nervous. And I’m dyslexic. Or maybe I’m just really bad at grammar?

Is there anyone you’d like to give a mention?
All the wonderful people that help make this possible for me. From some of the amazing authors that I’ve met – Eli Constant, Ken Mooney, to my awesome funny as hell editor Amy Jackson, to the really cool readers which keep coming back and reading more of my work. Every one of them rock my world, and I couldn’t do any of this without each and every one of them.

What is in your “to be read” pile right now?
Okay, so these are some of the books that I have purchased in the last couple of weeks and are waiting for me to read them. Though this is about a quarter of the actual pile. I really need to stop ‘one-clicking’. Bear in mind I read a mix of genres.
1.      After Death by Derrick Lacombe
2.      The Book of Riley by Mark Tufo
3.      After Life by Jaron Lee Knuth
4.      The Complex by J.Rudolph
5.      Dead Drunk by Richard Johnson
6.      Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
7.      Good Side of Sin by K.S. Haigwood
8.      I Zombie I by Jack Wallen
9.      Reign of Blood by Alexia Purdy
10.  A Shade of vampire by Bella Forrest

Claire C Riley, is a mother first, a wife second, but a writer at heart.

Her first novel Limerence is a dark paranormal romance. Claire likes to break boundaries with her writing, incorporating an old school style of horror and romance. Sexy and dark. (Think Bram Stokers Dracula, but for the 21st century!)

Claire’s current novel is a dystopian post-apocalyptic zombie novel called- Odium, and it focuses on survival, and how it would change us.
She has also written several short horror stories, with more coming in the new year. Her newest creation is Odium Origins. A Dead Saga Novella. Part One. It releases December 27th 2013 and is an accompaniment to Odium.
She is currently working on the sequel to Odium with a tentative release of March 2014, the sequel to Limerence creatively named Limerence II: Mia and a horror romance novel titled Chance Encounters.
Claire is an avid reader of all genres, a book collector, general procrastinator and has a great zombie apocalypse plan in place thanks to a questionnaire she asked her readers to fill in for her.
She can be stalked at any of the following.

Purchasing links for Odium.
UK Amazon Link
USA Amazon Link

Monday, December 23, 2013

Learning to walk on your own...

This won't take long. I still have a couple of lists to share before the end of the year, but first, I wanted to share what 2013 revealed for me.

I have always been one of those "I can do it myself" types. I didn't need help, thank you very much, I was quite capable. However, I learned over the last ten years or so that it is nice to rely on loved ones. I also know that not everybody has that luxury, so it was even more important that I appreciate it when it becomes available.

Somewhere along the way, I dropped my guard and let people who were really just "casual" acquaintances become involved in my dream of being an author, in defining my perception of my value. In addition, I was hitching my wagon to others and thinking that they were vested in seeing me do well. The reality is seldom so rose tinted. The truth and fact is, there will be better writers than me who do not see the success I have enjoyed, and there will be those who are worse that reach a bigger audience. My success is going to come from my hard work and continued perseverance...along with a dash of luck.

I have had my struggles, those have been documented and shared here on a few instances. There are those who hate my success, and for a while, that got to me. However, I had some very wonderful people in my life who told me they believed. So, when somebody I had come to trust and respect turned their back...I let that get to me for a while. But after a bit, I realized that I got to where I was without that individual...and I have thrived. My readers are the most wonderful people...many kind enough to tell me how they enjoyed my book series, be it DEAD. Zomblog, or Ava.

I don't need to hitch my wagon to anybody else's. I got here on my merit. There will always be detractors.  I fight every day with slipping in to the "old" ways and telling people EXACTLY what I think. But why slow down my own continued progress because of somebody else? 

Be thankful for those who have your back, and be for others the type of person you want in your own life. If you are shallow, do not expect depth from others. But by the same token, don't allow a social media site  to redefine the REAL meaning of "friend". I have met some wonderful people that I have never met face to face that I do actually consider real friends. And along the way, I learned that some people will always be there for you...through good and bad, better or worse. Others won't. That is real life.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Chapter Fifteen: Epilogue (or...“The damned double ending!”)

If you made it this far, you deserve a prize. I have my one dedicated Beta reader (that's you, Vix), but if you would like to get a jump on the rest of the world and be a "special, honorary" Beta reader for DEAD" Darkness Before Dawn, simply leave a comment today at the end of this post and then email me at so I know where to send you a PDF or Mobi version of your very own to read and maybe even point out a mistake or two that got missed along the way.

Thousand of stories have been spawned by the creature that Romero almost singe-handedly created. Many of those stories refer, either subtly or quite blatant, not only to elements of Romero’s tales, but also to the man dubbed “The Master” by millions. Malls have an iconic place in the realms of the zombie multiverse. There will always be “outside” threats from other survivors that seek to spoil some false utopia. Often, the zombie is the lesser threat as it brings out the best and the worst from those who fight and struggle to survive.

The zombie is a terrifying monster because of just how very “real” they are. Whether it is due to a viral infection that causes bestial rage ala 28 Days Later, or some bizarre radiation dragged in from space by a crashing satellite, a zombie is not too far-fetched. After all, The Bible features the first possible zombie: Lazarus.  The story never says what happened after Jesus left. While it is not assumed that Lazarus went on a flesh-eating spree, it still opens the mind to the possibility of the dead re-awakening.

As horror has unraveled and become slash or torture-porn, and the good, old-fashioned monster has morphed into the stranger next door...the zombie remains. As vampires undergo high school hormone make-overs...the zombie endures. As Jason spends his time battling Michael and Freddy...the zombie trudges on.  As sick old men take out their frustrations of a cancer diagnosis on perceived ingrates with no appreciation of their lives by trapping them in unsolvable torture puzzles that would repulse Torquemada...the zombies gather outside by the millions seeking to devour the last survivor. As today’s scary story plays out on the six o’clock news...zombies break down the last door. 

They feast.

They kill...

...the people they kill get up and kill!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Chapter Fourteen: Closing Credits (or...“You’re still here? It’s over. Go home! Go!”)

George A Romero created the perfect monster. While Bram Stoker deserves the credit for giving the world the term “undead”, Romero must likewise be credited for the zombie. Haitian mysticism aside, Romero’s flesh-rending ghouls are what launched a true horror franchise, setting the bar for any who would follow to aspire to reach.

While vampires have been transformed into teen idols and figures of romance for the MTV generation, the zombie has steadfastly remained horrible and gruesome. Removing Shaun of the Dead from the equation—the British can make anything seem funny—there is no humor to be found, nothing pretty about being a zombie. This etches the zombie as seen through Romero’s eyes into the annals of true monsterdom.  There will be no zombie love-triangles. (If there is, it will most certainly be overtly comedic or graphically pornographic which, in either case, excludes it from the horror genre.)

Only the zombie can claim status as true horror-genre worthiness. Vampires give over too easily to romance and thus, their fear factor has faded in the Twilight. Frankenstein is a moralistic tragedy, and only Hollywood could truly bastardize the story enough to create such a monster of deserved sympathy.

The zombie, as given by Romero, stands alone on stiff legs and plods endlessly forward as the vanguard of horror...its last remaining champion.  Since these flesh-eating ghouls were set free in 1968, they have captured a devout following.  No other genre can boast of such underappreciated inspiration.

While Frankenstein’s monster inspires feelings of pity and vampires come in their various shapes, sizes and degrees of (gasp!) good, the zombie is steadfast. A zombie kills. Those it kills—provided enough remains—get up and kill. Empty a machine gun clip into a zombie’s torso and you merely slow it down.

Despite looking somewhat human, a zombie is a monster. Strip away all the implied social commentary and it remains a monster bent on eliminating humanity. As long as a single, uninfected person lives and breathes, the zombie will continue to threaten the existence of man.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Chapter Thirteen: Buy the Book (or...“Extra! Extra! Read all about it!”)

Are you still with me? No worries...almost finished.

There is another yardstick in which to measure the rise of the zombie’s star: book stores.  Where, once, the bookshelves were practically bare, there is now a plethora of zombie fiction to choose from. One telling sign of its growth is that a multitude of women writers are venturing into the once male-dominant turf with some very smart, character-driven stories.

More does not necessarily mean better and there is a negative aspect of this newfound resurgence in all things zombie. There is certainly a great deal more chaff to sift through.  The degree of formulaic storylines and one-dimensional characters taking place in zombie fiction prove the “more is not better” thesis. While many zombie-fiction writers fall into the ‘easily forgotten’ category, there is a handful who are ‘must reads’: Rhiannon Frater, Max Brooks, S.G. Browne, Kim Paffenroth, and Robert Kirkman.  Of that group, half of them (Brooks, Browne, and Kirkman) have screenplay deals.  Kirkman’s The Walking Dead series of graphic novels is a smash hit for AMC. Brad Pitt purchased the rights to Max Brook’s World War Z and Browne just signed the movie rights away for Breathers: A Zombie’s lament.

Currently there are a few publishers who deal heavily in zombie fiction: Permuted Press, Books of the Dead (via James Roy Daley) and my own (excuse the shameless plug), MayDecember Publications are among some of the more prolific.  These three houses each publish between eight to a dozen titles a year consisting of a mixture of full length novels and anthologies.  All three have no qualms about taking a chance on a previously unpublished author.  It would seem that the ‘zombie infection’ has not only spread, but is thriving in the literary world.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Chapter Twelve: Remakes, Rip-offs and Ribaldry (or...“You mean the movie lied?”)

There is an oft used line from Monty Python...the only wield it when it is clear they have no real ending in mind for a skit. Usually delivered by the late Graham Chapman..."Stop it! That's just silly." Horror needed that reminder as the Eighties spun out of control.

If all that is wanted form a zombie horror film are a few good scares and some gruesome effects woven into a terrifying story of one possible apocalypse, look no further than the series of remakes based on the original Romero trilogy.  If a bit of low-brow camp mixed in with formula, and a dash of full-frontal nudity is desired, then the oft-confused Return of the Living Dead series of movies will satisfy.  For good old-fashioned horror that keeps its audience on the edge of its seat peeking through splayed fingers, there is the 28 Days Later films.  Last but not least, for the bookwork there are a plethora of novels, novellas, graphic-novels, and anthologies.

Night of the Living Dead was re-made by protégée and effect legend, Tom Savini in 1990.  The film remained true to its predecessor in many ways and satisfied those who could not appreciate the noir of black-and-white, but would not tolerate a colorized film.  Most notably, the shambling zombies creeping in on the protagonists like the tide offered a feeling of a certain and methodical doom.

Savini focused on the strength of his talent with effects while producing a more “politically correct” story.  Barbara was no longer a damsel in distress.  Instead, she was portrayed as a fierce survivor by Patricia Tallman.  Lacking the degree of racial tension between Ben and Harry Cooper, all of the individuals seeking refuge in the farm house fight amongst themselves.  It is Barbara’s tough, no-nonsense attitude that provides the glue.  There are subtle twists and changes to the climax, but Savini stays off the soapbox and produces nothing more than a monster movie.

Danny Boyle brought his British art house horror film to the United States in June of 2003 after considerable critical acclaim.  There are numerous and obvious nods to Romero, but the Alex Garland story is its own entity.  It is in 28 Days Later that the zombies, or, as they are referred to in this film, ‘infected’, are sprinters.  In fact, when casting extras, Boyle sought out English Football and track stars to ensure speed.  It should be noted that many Romero fans supported and gave positive reviews of the Boyle film.  The actual divisiveness surrounding the sprinting zombie came when Snyder utilized them in his remake.

In March of 2004, Zack Snyder released the remake of Dawn of the Dead.  Throughout his film, Snyder “tips his hat” to Romero.  In addition, he sought to win over fans of the original films by inserting gems that die-hard fans alone would appreciate.  There were cameos by original members of  the 1978 film; Scott Reiniger, Tom Savini and Ken Foree.  Each had spotlight scenes with dialog and Foree was even cast as a television minister where he repeated his “When there is no more room in Hell...” (Dawn 1978 and 2004) line.  A mall provided the central setting for a group of survivors.  That is where the similarity ended.  The movie was an entirely different story from the original.  Snyder’s most glaring difference would be the use of “sprinting zombies”.  While seemingly small, the use of the fast moving or sprinting zombie is a source of much debate in the horror community.  Very few fans of this particular monster have no opinion on the subject.  The Snyder film, while polarizing, was actually riding the wave of zombie fiction popularity ushered in by the entirely new and different franchise: 28 Days Later. 

Speed is not the first issue that had disrupted and divided the zombie community.  In 1985, as the third movie in the Romero saga, Day of the Dead, limped into a limited release as an independent film, another zombie franchise was seeing wide commercial release.  Return of the Living Dead was seen as nothing short of an insult and defacing of the Romero name by a vast majority of purists.  This film would strip the zombie of his ability to frighten.  Even more appalling, it would create an off-shoot in the mythos that has—some believe wrongfully so—managed to survive for over two decades: the zombie as a TALKING brain-eater.  Either aspect alone is a corruption, the combination of the two is abhorrent to the fans of Romero’s creation.

When Baby Godzilla was brought to the screen, Godzilla stopped being a terrible monster bent on ruin.  He became a bit ordinary.  In fact, he served as Japan’s savior from the likes of Ghidra ad Mecha-Godzilla in future installments.

Likewise, when a zombie takes time off from wreaking carnage to get on a police radio and say “send more cops!” (Return), there is a laugh factor that has been irrevocable introduced. The Return of the Living Dead franchise has transformed a monster capable of instilling fear into a buffoon. The zombie was taking a cue from the Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors version of Freddy Krueger and zipping off one-liners. Had it billed itself as a comedy, Return of the Living Dead could be forgiven. However, by being billed as horror, the film was fostering the illegitimization of the zombie as a monster.

The other damaging effect of this new franchise is one that lingers today and has even affected some of the purists. “Brains!” (Return). With that one word uttered by a newly animated corpse, a peculiar conundrum, was caused in the worlds of zombie lore. Since the universally accepted manner in which to dispatch a zombie is a brain injury, and the contagion was spread via bite, how could a now brainless corpse rise and join the horde? The Romero-zombie was not capable of speech, nor was it a discerning eater. In fact, it was the scenes involving individuals having their insides torn out as they screamed in agony that made death-by-zombie so terrifying.

Where the Romero franchise (remakes included) as well as the Boyle film(s) maintained their mythos—a headshot was the only way to stop the zombie—the “Return” movies changed from title to title. In the first movie, headshots, dismemberment and bludgeoning would all prove useless and only cremation would suffice. In one scene, a cadaver has re-animated. It is decided that the classic head injury method be used to dispatch the creature. A pick is driven through the zombies head; yet it continues to struggle. One character exclaims, “Well, it worked in the movie!” Another replies, “You mean the movie lied?!” (Return). The movies in this franchise were merely parodies full of gore for gore’s sake. They didn’t scare so much as cause the viewer to cringe.

The zombies had been made more human.  The one thing that truly made them monsters had been diluted and weakened. People were no longer afraid of some rubber-masked creature from a dark lagoon.  Radioactive giants or mysterious beasts from strange lands could not scare us.  The news on television was full of much worse: Charles Manson, Jeffery Dahmer, Jim Jones, the Heaven’s Gate cult, Columbine High School, and Mohammad Atta. Just as the movies were showing us...WE had become the monster.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Chapter Eleven: Horror’s Dawn (or...“Once bitten...twice shy.”)

Today, it is all about the zombie. Love it or hate it...or think it has been overused to the point of market saturation...the zombie is here to stay.

Dawn of the Dead would bring the gruesome violence of the zombie to audiences in vivid color.  While Night of the Living Dead was filmed in black and white (simply because it was a cheaper film cost), Dawn would flaunt its gore brilliantly. Brooding and sinister darkness would be replaced with in-your-face disembowelment.

The second film in the Romero-zombie franchise would quickly establish the infectiousness of the zombie. The opening scene in the WGON newsroom would have a man being interviewed on camera state very emphatically, “These things get up and kill! The people they kill get up and kill!” (Dawn, 1978).  The zombie created by Romero is horrifying because it comes in the form of friends, family, and loved ones. Even though their bodies carried the graphic depictions of their demise and an unhealthy skin tone of bluish-green, their victims still “saw” their former human selves.

There could be no mistake that these monsters were in no way human. In addition to their discoloration, they moved in slow jerks and fits.  The zombie showed no recollection, remorse, or hesitation as they tore into living flesh.  No longer human, these undead creatures were not cannibals.  They are monsters.

Standing on the balcony in the mall, Ken Foree would recount something his character’s grandfather once said. This line would be echoed by fans for the decades to follow. “When there is no room in Hell, the dead will walk the earth.” (Dawn, 1978).  Like so many have done over the past three decades, giving a “tip of the hat” to Romero, he gives acknowledgement to the Afro-Caribbean belief system of Vodoun. However, there can be no mistaking the Romero-zombie with Wade Davis’ tetrodotoxin-induced zombies. Romero’s creation is no mindless servant. Instead, these monsters attack and eat the living.  They are no longer human and are immune to all forms of attack used against them save one: destroy the brain.

There is a darkly humorous scene in Dawn of the Dead which illustrates the frighteningly near-imperviousness of the zombie David Emge’s character (Stephen) is shooting at approaching zombies.  His bullets strike the body several times to no avail.  Scott Reiniger’s character (Roger) steps in, knocks Stephen’s rifle aside, and with a single headshot, drops the approaching zombie to Stephen’s befuddlement. While the scene plays out in comedic fashion, the horror aspect can be easily seen.  These monsters, while slow moving, will keep coming for you.  They may be missing limbs, or have gaping wounds with viscera spewing forth, but that does not matter.

Like any legitimate monster, the zombie has a glaring weakness that will bring it down. Vampires have stakes to the heart or sunshine. Were-creatures can be dispatched with silver bullets. Zombies need a critical blow to the head. In each case, nothing else would suffice.

Dawn of the Dead would officially launch the zombie to monster stardom.  It would be a vehicle for tales of morality as well as horror.  And, like anything groundbreaking as well as outstanding, it would inspire imitation in the form of everything from generic rip-off to lampoon.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Chapter Ten: The Dead of Night (or...“They’re coming to get you, Barbara.”)

Now we get to the "meat" of my thesis. And thank goodness for Romero. I actually owe my career to him as do many of my friends and colleagues.

The American mythos of the zombie must be credited to Romero.  According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Romero’s classic 1968 horror film ‘Night of the Living Dead’ is considered by some film historians to be the first modern horror movie.” (Maher)  That black-and-white classic is the genesis of all zombie fiction.  Simply pick up a book in that horror sub-genre and you will almost certainly see some form of acknowledgement to Romero.  It is one man’s vision that has scared, entertained, and inspired a generation.

While it cannot be disputed that Romero’s films were loaded with deeper meanings and statements on everything from civil rights to consumerism, it is the horrific imagery that captured such a devoted audience.  Tame by today’s standards, Night of the Living Dead is often credited with forcing the creation of the MPAA ratings board.  Eventually the movie was awarded one of the first ‘X’ ratings in addition to being banned in several locations. Flesh eating ghouls (as they were initially referred to) were only part of the reason.

One of the greatest outrages turned out to be unintentional.  Duane Jones, an African-American, was cast as Ben, the male lead. According to director’s commentary by Romero, “Duane was cast as Ben solely based on the fact that he was the best actor of the bunch,” (Night) During one scene Barbara is slapped in the face by Ben during a hysterical fit.  This scene did not play well in 1968...especially in the Deep South.

There are three “monster based” scenes in Night of the Living Dead that disturbed audiences and put them on the edge of their seats.  The first is S. William Hinzman as ‘Cemetery Zombie”, and his relentless pursuit of Barbara.  The second is when Johnny, Barbara’s brother, returns as a zombie and drags his sister through a busted down door into the waiting horde.  However, the clincher is when the pre-teen daughter of Harry and Helen Cooper “turns” and eats her father, then proceeds to attack her mother with a trowel.

Just as the atomic age created a monster heyday of gigantic, havoc-wrecking beasts, Godzilla being one of the most notable, Romero couched a very subtle warning about space exploration.  Man had walked on the moon and the Soviet-American space race was in high gear.  His warnings could be easily compared to Shelly’s in regards to the direction science was leaning at the time.

While no direct cause is ever actually given, there are comments about a probe returning from Venus breaking up on re-entry.  It is this possibility that separates the ghoulish Romero-zombie from its Haitian brethren.  There was no mystic force in control of these beings.  Also, they would exponentially increase their numbers when their bitten victims would fall ill, die, and then rise as another soldier of the undead mob.

Romero had unleashed his monster to the delight of horror fans. Still, it would be another decade before he would truly establish the zombie’s place in monsterdom. In 1978, a new franchise would be offered to anxious, monster-loving horror fans with the second film in what would be commonly referred to as the “Dead” series.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Chapter Nine: Back to the Beginning (or...“We interrupt this program...”)

Today is my daughter's birthday. I am celebrating the most precious little girl in the world despite her being on the other side of the country, but you feel free to browse today's edition and comment.

Happy Birthday, Ronni.

Critics have universally credited Romero’s 1968 horror film as one of the genre’s best-of-all-time.  He would direct other films over the next decade that would remain mostly obscure and unknown.  In 1978 he would team with now legendary special effects guru, Tom Savini for Dawn of the Dead.  This film would set the zombie in motion towards its eventual place in the leading echelon of monsterdom as the standard-bearer. 

Like many fans who would feel on inexplicable draw to the zombie, Dawn of the Dead touched something deep inside me.  Much like the zombies in the film, once the “infection” set in, there would be no cure.  Romero would become the Pied Piper to legions of devoted fans who would treat his creation with an almost religious reverence.

Like most life altering moments, I recall the date I fell prey: September 18, 1979.  Dawn of the Dead was the second film of a double-feature.  I never recall seeing so much as a commercial; thus, I had no idea what to expect.  From the opening moment when Gaylen Ross’ character, Francine, wakes from an obvious nightmare to utter chaos in a television studio, the film sets a barbed hook that won’t let go.

All fans have that one seminal moment that etches the zombie in their mind as The Monster.  My own personal moment takes place less than fifteen minutes into the movie: Pandemonium reigns inside a Philadelphia tenement building.  National Guardsmen, cops, residents, and zombies are everywhere.  Up to that point, the zombies were merely bluish, shambling, and clumsy.  In the midst of the turmoil, a woman bursts out onto the landing outside her apartment door and into the arms of a man she is apparently familiar with.  She clutches at his shirt, sobbing incoherently in Spanish.  Police scream for her to get away.  His bluish hue and vacant eyes are obvious to everyone but this woman.  With no emotion or warning, the man takes a bite out of the woman right at the meaty part where the neck and shoulder meet. The flesh tears away and there are actually connective strands of skin that stretch until ripping free between the wound and the zombie’s mouth.  Blood wells up in an unnaturally bright red; and as the woman screams, throwing up her hands to defend herself, he takes another bite from her forearm.  Then, bullets riddle his body...with no effect! (Bet you thought it would be the scene with the helicopter lobotomy...didn'tcha?)

Until that moment, I had considered The Exorcist to be the most horrifying, truly scary film ever made.  However, Romero’s Dawn of the Dead held me transfixed. His apocalyptic vision and Savini’s imagery were spell-binding.  At the moment, like most who witness history being made, I was unaware that I was seeing the rise of a horror icon.  No zombie story since has failed to pay homage to the dual Adams of Romero and Savini.

This film would establish the zombie as the perfect monster.  The zombie would exemplify the horror formula.  Being a member of the undead, it could not be considered human.  Because it looked like friends and loved ones it could get close enough to wield damage and this spread the “infection”.  It possessed a fatal weakness: damaging the brain was the only method of destruction.  It could be used to display human flaws and evils.  The zombie gave horror purists a bona fide monster.