House of Horrors (1946)

The work of starving artist Marcel De Lange is misunderstood by the art community. After being personally and professionally insulted in his own home, De Lange turns critic slayer, utilizing a unique weapon.HoH2

Marcel De Lange (Martin Kosleck) is a sculptor, whose statues of human figures could be classified in the avant-garde Modernism style. By candlelight, he has a discussion with his cat, Pietro, about his pitiful finances and meager dinner of bread and cheese, borrowed from a neighbor. All that’s about to change, however, as a patron is expected that evening to purchase a piece for $1,000. The man arrives, having brought highly esteemed art critic Holmes Harmon (Alan Napier of Batman fame) along for his opinion. Harmon is the epitome of a haughty, elitist snob who, with no sign of compunction, disparages both the artist and his work. “Tripe!” he scornfully sniffs. “A work of lunacy.” Marcel, understandably enraged, drives them out by brandishing a very large knife, then smashes the sculpture with a mallet. HoH1Walking the docks, about to commit suicide, Marcel spies a man pulling himself from the river. He rushes down to help, and upon seeing the man’s unusual visage, declares it magnificent. Marcel takes the man (Rondo Hatton) home and asks him to model for a new piece that’s going to set the art world on fire. Sure, the brutish looking man replies. After a day of work, Marcel turns in for the night, while his muse heads out and murders a streetwalker he saw passing by. The police wonder if it could be the work of the Creeper, a serial killer who strangles his victims, then snaps their spines. He should be dead (per a previous movie), but his body was never found.

Next evening, Marcel reads about the murder in the paper, then bitches about critic Harmon. The Creeper decides to pay him a visit.

Meanwhile, another art critic, Joan Medford (Virginia Grey), stops at Harmon’s office to discuss another artist, her boyfriend, Steve Morrow (Robert Lowery) whom pompous Harmon also disparages (Morrow paints “cheesecake” commercial art). Once Joan leaves, the Creeper creeps and it’s lights out for Harmon. The cops suspect Morrow, since his recent show was panned by the deceased and Harmon was at work on another piece blasting the artist.

Joan pays a visit to Marcel, who won’t allow her to see his work-in-progress. When he leaves the room to get some wine, she sneaks a peek at the bust, which is witnessed by the model, who’s hiding in another part of the room.

On the investigation front, the lead detective, Brooks (Bill Goodwin), decides to set a trap using another art critic, who bashes Morrow and compares him to lunatic, talent-deficient sculptor De Lange. The sting works, luring Morrow to the critic’s apartment, but Marcel has also read the column, and the Creeper does his thing.HoH5When Joan pays another visit to Marcel looking for content for her next column, she swipes his reference sketch, witnessed again by the Creeper. When Marcel learns Joan stole his sketch…well, desperate times call for desperate measures.

This is another brisk, 65 minute effort put out by Universal. It’s not a horror movie, but more of a mystery-crime flick with noir touches (there’s some nice shadow work in a couple of scenes) and some occasional second-tier snappy dialogue. Rondo Hatton (who suffered from acromegaly, causing disfigurement of the face and hands) wasn’t really an actor, but as the Creeper, he’s a man of very few words and it works well in the context of this story. The rest of the cast put in serviceable performances, although Virginia Grey’s Joan is a bit of a poor man’s Rosalind Russell or Eve Arden. Alan Napier, as snooty critic Harmon, is fun to watch, while Martin Kosleck, as the struggling Marcel De Lange is the real draw. The opening scene, Marcel’s monologue to his cat, creates sympathy for the character. You feel for the guy, and see he’s a decent man, taking in a stranger who has given him a new lease on life (Marcel tells the Creeper as much, explaining he was about to suicide and thanking him for saving his life and inspiring his new project).

Marcel is a little guy, literally and figuratively, pushed around by others, even Joan calls him “little man” once or twice. He feels powerless, but with his new, large and strong friend, he feels empowered.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Pietro, Marcel’s cat, the best feline actor I’ve seen on film. He was Marcel’s friend, confidant, and ever-faithful companion (by the end of the movie you’ll know what I mean).

This is by no means a great movie, but it’s competently made and breezes along, although I think it’s a must-see for Kosleck fans. On a scale of 1 – 10, I objectively give it a 6.5, but as a personal favorite, I rate it about an 8.5. Fun stuff.

The Frozen Ghost (1945)

After an audience member dies during a hypnotist’s act, the guilt-ridden mesmerist  moves into a wax museum to “relax.” What could possibly go wrong?

Alex Gregor (aka Gregor the Great) has a mentalist act that he performs with his fiancée partner Maura Daniel. During one of their performances, a drunk heckler interrupts and Alex invites the man onstage to prove Maura’s clairvoyance isn’t a trick; he’ll do the same with him. The man stumbles onstage, remaining obnoxious. Alex mutters that he could kill him, then starts to hypnotize him. Unfortunately, the man inconveniently drops dead.FG1

Later, backstage, Alex and Maura are talking to investigating detective Inspector Brant. Alex’s manager, George, walks in and woe-is-me Gregor insists he killed the audience member with his mind. He did it, he killed him! He wished him dead! The cop gets word that the heckler was a long-time drunk with a bad ticker; he had a heart attack, it wasn’t the mentalist’s fault. Alex isn’t convinced and rushes out to wander the streets all night, moping and blaming himself.

The next morning, Alex returns home and tells George and Maura he’s calling it quits; not just the act, but the engagement, too. George then asks a friend of his for help. Valerie Monet owns and operates a wax museum, can Alex stay there until he gets his head straight? Valerie extends the invitation, which includes a job giving the lectures on the tableaux to the patrons (which we never see). Alex accepts. Once there, she introduces him to her young niece, Nina, and former plastic surgeon, Rudi Polden, the eccentric man who crafts the wax figures (he talks to his creations).

FG5

Well, Rudi is shifty, and stirs up trouble by playing off Valerie’s romantic interest in Alex by telling her Alex has eyes for Nina. Valerie gets into a bitch-fest with Alex about both Maura and making a play for Nina. In his anger, he hypnotizes her (what?) and she faints. He goes into a fugue state and starts walking around town again, clutching Valerie’s scarf.FG4

When Alex returns next morning, Valerie is gone and Nina has called the police. The same cop from earlier is there to take the report. Not long afterwards, Nina goes missing, and Alex enlists the aid of former partner Maura to find out what happened to the two.FG6

This is one of six short, (60 minute) low-budget Inner Sanctum movies Universal churned out in the 1940’s, starring Lon Chaney, Jr. In this one, he plays Alex Gregor and it’s a rather bland performance. The rest of the cast, including Evelyn Ankers and Milburn Stone, put in decent enough performances, given the material they have to work with. The detective, played by Douglass Dumbrille, is also a bit of an eccentric. Martin Kosleck, as Rudi Polden, is always enjoyable to watch and can make a simple line like “Little Nina” sound simultaneously affectionate and sinister.

There are problems with the script. For instance, the mentalist act. It seems Alex is only a hypnotist, but Maura is the psychic. If she’s doing all the heavy lifting, shouldn’t she be the headliner? Also, why is the cop, who identifies himself as being with the homicide squad, later investigating a missing person? Why are three different women swooning over mopey, hang-dog Alex? There’s a key plot point discussed later on that’s questionable, but mentioning it would be a spoiler.

This is far from a great movie, I’d give it a 5 out of 10 (*), but I’m a sucker for a creaky old wax museum flick and Martin Kosleck causing trouble. This is a rainy weekend time-waster if you turn off your brain and just enjoy. (* I’ve raised my rating to 7.5 after a subsequent viewing. Very re-watchable, at least for me. Your viewing mileage may vary.)

Raw Audio Recap The Frozen Ghost

The Flesh Eaters (1964)

Because distraction can be good for the writer’s soul, I recently indulged my latest obsession (veteran character actor Martin Kosleck) and watched the low-budget 1964 horror flick, The Flesh Eaters. I was wary; too many times I had bought a movie, unseen, or wasted two hours watching on tv, a movie with an actor I liked, only to discover they only had a two-minute cameo at either the very beginning or two-thirds of the way through what was otherwise a crap fest. I am pleased to say that wasn’t the case here.

The Flesh Eaters begins with personal assistant Jan Letterman chartering a plane for her employer, actress Laura Winters, from down-on-his-luck pilot Grant Murdoch. Laura needs to make the curtain for the play she’s starring in out-of-state. The real question is whether she’ll sober up in time, because she’s three sheets to the wind with a portable liquor store in an overnight bag. There’s also a little problem of a tropical storm heading their way; Murdoch says it’s too dangerous to fly. Jan offers him triple his fee and since he needs the cash, he takes the risk.

In mid-flight, heading ever closer to the storm, they experience engine trouble and Murdoch makes an emergency landing on a small island off the coast. They quickly discover the island isn’t uninhabited as they meet Dr. Peter Bartell, marine biologist conducting crustacean experiments (his pleasant, German accented voice and steely eyes are no cause for concern. None at all). After finding a human skeleton washed ashore, the doctor brushes it off to a shark attack, then offers the trio safe haven in his tent further inland.

The next morning, glimmering fish skeletons are littering the beach. Something is amiss. A little later, a beatnik named Omar makes it to the island on his shabby raft (how in the hell did that survive a hurricane?). Things go from bad to worse when the stranded travelers realize they’re trapped on the island, the waters infested with some sort of flesh-eating amoeba.

This is considered to be one of the first gore movies, released a year after Blood Feast. Unlike its predecessor, The Flesh Eaters is a pretty decent low-budget B movie. The acting isn’t bad, the B&W cinematography is great, and it has some fairly good practical effects, the flesh-eaters themselves most notably.

I’m happy to say Martin Kosleck has a sizable role in this as Dr. Bartell. He’s the villain, of course, and, as usual, delivers. All the actors do a decent to good job playing their trope roles, even Ray Tudor as Omar, the insufferable proto-hippie (watching him makes you understand why Eric Cartman hates them).

One of my favorite scenes is tied to an earlier one. The set-up: Shortly after the three make it to the island, Dr. Bartell takes a moment to talk to Laura. Noting she has a thing for macho Murdoch, he tells her it’s brains, not brawn, that makes a man attractive. Apparently, although he may be studying hermit crabs, he himself is not one when the opportunity to get it on with a still desirable actress is presented (how she retains her looks despite being a big-time lush is beyond me). Needless to say, she shoots the doctor down. The payoff: Later in the movie, however, she makes a play for him. He suggests they duck behind a secluded dune. I immediately say there is no way he’s getting any, because he’s Martin Kosleck, and his characters never get any! What happens next had me laughing out loud, in a good way.

I was skeptical about this movie, but it ended up being a lot of fun. A shifty scientist with a German accent, a busty blonde who strips to her bra to fashion a bandage for the injured hero, a Maynard G. Krebbs type, and some cool flesh eating creatures. Gather your friends, and in keeping with the spirit of the movie and Dr. Bartell, get some shrimp and crab legs and make a night of it. Just keep an eye on your drink!

(The Flesh Eaters is available to stream on Amazon or can be watched for free on YouTube)

Utilizing audio in your writing

I was going to write a post about my grand plans for adding an external monitor to my work space. It’s a nice one, but it’s not working out the way I wanted or hoped. All that effort comparing models, price, etc. wasted. Perhaps it’s just a period of adjustment.

I was beyond pleased the other night when I discovered some items for the novel written out on a couple of legal pads. I’ll be adding those things today and also wanted to take a look at another chapter that needs notes crafted into actual, readable, prose. I have some recordings about that chapter that I’d like to revisit, I just have to find them.

Perhaps I mentioned this before. I use a digital recorder in my writing process. This started with the episode guides. I’d watch an episode, taking handwritten notes, then I’d dictate those notes into a recorder. The episode was fresh in my mind, and sometimes, I’d recall something that I hadn’t written down, or an inconsistency, plot hole, or call back to an earlier episode. I didn’t plan on keeping any of those recordings, but they were fun to listen to because of the looseness. They were quite raw, occasionally filled with obscenities, rants, and laughing jags. I’ve saved most of them. Alas, very early ones were deleted due to the first recorder I was using not having capability of file transfer. I honestly didn’t think I’d be saving them. I lost well over two hundred entries.

On that first, inferior, recorder, I also began making notes for various works in progress. This novel, surprisingly, wasn’t one of them. I didn’t think I’d dig it out of the trunk and do anything with it. How wrong I was. With the purchase of a better recorder (stereo, Mp3 files, and USB transfer), not only was I making my episode guide recordings, but I started talking through the novel. There were a lot of things that needed to be changed, developed, or sorted out, and using the recorder was a way to do that. It quickly became apparent that I’d need a second, dedicated recorder solely for the novel. Purchase made.

recorders

I usually do those recordings at night, over a drink or cup of tea. Hit record and start talking. For parts of the story that were nebulous, stream of consciousness rambling eventually got me to something substantial and concrete. And since it’s recorded, I can listen back, and it settles in my subconscious, so the next recording is more to the point, more focused (and, sometimes, parts are worded exactly the same). I resolved two major issues using this process. The number of files was high, but eventually I got it. Unfortunately, transcribing all those files can be overwhelming, especially when some run up to forty-five minutes. Some, however, are a concise two or three minutes; a quick note to add something to a scene, or dialogue.

Part of the reason I like using a recorder is because it’s immediate; think it, speak it, and it’s there. Although I’m a fast typist, I would still lose things. Another benefit is emotion or enthusiasm. I find that when I’m immersed in a dictation, emotion, vocal inflection, and tone of voice for the characters in a given situation come through. Angry, confused, delighted, sorrowful, it’s there. And the beauty of it is, I can listen back to those files and hear what I intend to convey in the written word. My stories have plot, of course, but they are also very character driven, and tend to have a lot of layers. This method helps in those areas as well. It’s also useful to read a chapter into one and see if the writing has the right flow and rhythm, and gauge whether the words make sense and are accessible to readers.

For me, reorders are as essential a tool as pen, paper, and computer.

 

Changing course

There’s always so much to do in the self-publishing world, and it’s exhausting. It also pulls you away from what you want to do most, write. Sometimes, I use these other things, these necessary evils, as a way to procrastinate.

The first was in finding the perfect image for the book cover. I became obsessed with it. Once I found it, I toyed with how to use it, slightly modify it, and looked for the perfect font. This was over a year ago, the book still incomplete. But I had a cover.

I distracted myself with re-issuing earlier, unrelated, books using my own ISBNs in order to have a little more control over my work. This involved learning the ins-and-outs of Bowker and IngramSpark. Easy enough, except, IngramSpark has different requirements for cover files. Another distraction, which included upgrading from Photoshop Elements to Photoshop and re-learning how to do certain actions in a more powerful program. And hey, I also switched aggregators to distribute my e-books wide. Fortunately, that’s an easy system to use, except…you know, I really need to add an active, hyperlink table of contents to those books. Let me distract myself with that for a week or so.

Okay, book cover? Check. Reissues reissued? Check. Understand how Bowker and IngramSpark work? Check. Understand enough of Photoshop to do what I need? Sure. E-book hyperlinks? Got ’em.

You know, I should really try and have an online presence. It’s what all the kids are doing nowadays, can’t be a dinosaur, can I? Yes, it’s already tough trying to get a blog post up twice a month, but, go for it. So, I created a Twitter account, which I avoided for years because I didn’t think I was succinct enough. Turns out, I am. Found some great people to follow, too. It’s so entertaining to distract myself and procrastinate reading those tweets.

Hmm, I hear about AMS ads. I should really look into that. Warning: start trying to build a list of keywords for ads and you’ll be at it for days. Or weeks. And, wouldn’t you know it, as I search for relevant words, authors, and book titles, I find books that interest me. I should order this or that book and distract myself from my writing a bit more. True story, last night, I had some books in my cart but wasn’t logged into Amazon. I closed the browser and thought, you know, I don’t really need those books. Besides, I have a stack of titles I haven’t even read yet. Screw it.

Well, after all those diversions, I’ve come to a decision that’s going to require a lot of willpower. I’m not sure I’m up to it, but, damn it, I’m going to try. No more distractions, no more procrastination. I’ve got to focus on the novel. I don’t care how small the progress, as long as it’s progress. To that end, I’ll still try to update the blog twice a month. I’ll still be checking in on Twitter, but not to waste time or procrastinate. The book is far too important.

Organization and epiphanies

Yesterday, I worked on organizing a scene in an early chapter of the novel, adding some new dialogue along the way, and deleting the duplicate, triplicate, and sometimes quadruplicate notes I had (yes, sometimes I’m like that). Of course, it’s not perfect, but at least that scene is now in the proper order. There’s more, similar, work to be done in the chapter, but it’s all coming together.

Later in the evening, over a cup of tea, I took to my digital recorder. I often do this prior to going to bed. I relax, and babble about the day’s work, or all the things that still need to be done on the project. It can sometimes become a stream of consciousness type thing. Last night, I was talking about what I accomplished earlier in the day, noting that what began as an add-on prologue (it wasn’t in the original draft), became two separate chapters that could stand alone as a short story. Then I thought, it seems like a lot of (intriguing) stuff that doesn’t have any bearing on the rest of the book, kind of a misdirection or cheat to accomplish one, minor thing……

Until my subconscious thinking smacked my conscious thinking and I realized just how important it was. Incredibly so, in fact. I delved deeper, spelunking that dark cavern of my creativity. I realized that, because I’ve been so focused on earlier chapters of the book, I had  ‘forgotten’ later chapters, when things take some wonderfully complex turns. Last night, I reminded myself of character motivations and plot points and realized how it does all tie together.

I also rambled about some other things, which I’ve always known, but found the succinct words to describe or relay the idea. I just stopped the recorder, hit play, and scribbled those out right away. Good stuff.

The full story is always there, lurking in the recesses, revealing itself, little by little. Sometimes, parts are fully and easily recognizable. Other parts appear more abstract, until I pause, observe, think, and finally see the full, multi-layered picture.

 

 

 

Reading, writing, soon to be reviewing

Unfortunately, other things kept me from getting much writing done the last two weekends, but things are looking good going forward; pesky, specific errands are out of the way and my calendar is clear. In fact, last night, lying in bed, I had a thought that would make for a good sentence in a paragraph I had written earlier in the day. I got up, grabbed a flashlight, and made for the next room, where I jotted it down on a legal pad. All that for one sentence. Thing is, I knew I’d forget it if I didn’t make the effort. So many words, sentences, and paragraphs have been lost in the past due to inaction. I used to do a great deal of ‘head’ writing while lying in bed back in the day. Thankfully, I’ve moved away from that, it’s only occasionally that I have an idea in those moments. I’ve successfully retrained my brain to avoid thinking plot and character developments when I should be catching zzzs.

I’m also in the process of reading a fantastic book. I honestly haven’t been this engrossed, excited, or blown away in a long time. I’m enjoying it so much, I slowed my pace to make it last. Of course, I had to order another title or two by the author right away, convinced I’ll need another fix sooner rather than later. I’m holding off on saying anything about the title until I do a review, although I’ve mentioned the book and author on Twitter.

Hoping I get at least a little writing in tonight, then, back to reading.

This and that

Update on my goings-on.

One of the books I was reading really started to irritate me at about the half-way point, so I set it aside. It can be a problem when reading a story collection of one author. Problem is, I have two more collections by the same writer on the to-be-read list. I think it will be a while before I get back to any of his works. In its place, I started to read a novel. I like it well enough for what it is, but it’s not a page-turner. More of a slow simmer type of book.

All the re-issues are out, including e-books with active ToCs. Even better, a quick check of a couple of titles on Amazon shows the correct file in the Look Inside.

Now to the important stuff. In an attempt to jump-start my writing, I thought working on something else would help. Perhaps something in a different genre. It did and it didn’t. As I began thinking things through for the new project, I quickly realized I wasn’t feeling it. There were some elements I liked, but the story lacked a purpose. The general idea, I think, would work better as a vague, ambiguous short, with no resolution. A bizarre kind of day-in-the-life.

What did happen, however, was that I turned to my novel instead. Over the holiday, I worked solely on that. Did I make a lot of headway? No, but I tackled some of the things I had been avoiding and was satisfied with the results, at least until the next round of editing. It was a good day’s work.

 

My subconscious strikes again

I’ve been toying with an idea for a possible novella. Over the weekend, I hit upon an idea for a scene and  started thinking it through, jotting notes, fragments of conversation, etc. Last night, I started to wonder why that new scene focused so much on a particular thing.

This morning, it dawned on me. I realized the story had an underlying theme that could be summed up in one word. One word, that can be applied in various ways. It wasn’t my intention. All I set out to do was write a straightforward horror story, leaving subtext, complexity, and deeper meaning to my novel.

But that’s not the way my mind works. This isn’t the first time this has happened either, but it’s been a while since I’ve had a new idea, so it seems a little foreign.

My subconscious always seems to be miles ahead of my conscious thought when it comes to writing. I often have difficulty catching up to it, but when in synch, the words can’t stop flowing.

Still in a writing rut

I haven’t done any work on the novel. I considered working on another idea, a horror novella, something lean and mean. Different. I made some notes one day, but I didn’t like the direction it was going. I need to think about it some more. I did, however, mock up a fairly decent cover that conveys horror/suspense. That counts for something, right?

I finally managed to get another book review out. It’s posted to my YouTube channel or you can find it here on the website under Podcasts.

“Whatever happened to that Silver Brook redevelopment plan? Wasn’t someone going to revitalize the resort, make the area shine again?” Connie asked.

“It was a disaster before it started. Herb Fenley and Lou Klaussen approached me about it. They were looking for investors. I turned them down, I know a dog when I see one. Then they promised me the moon and the MIlky Way. Exclusive listings of luxury condos and a handful of mansions they had planned. I told them Silver Brook is a limbo, a no-man’s land. Nobody would willingly live there, at least, nothing human.”

“Rob, don’t start that shit —”

“I’m not starting anything,” he soberly replied, and she thought he paled slightly. “The whole project fell through when Herb Fenley disappeared…during an excursion to Silver Brook.”