People often ask me why I am so obsessed with creepy stuff. It’s almost as if it isn’t healthy or something. I’ve thought about it a lot over the years, and concluded that raiding my big sister’s stash of horror paperbacks as a kid probably has a lot to do with it. I was also heavily influenced by my grandad. The main reason, however, is that I was brought up in a house where a lot of weird shit happened.
It took me a long time to process everything, but when I saw the submission call for Out of Time, a new anthology on Timber Ghost Press, I saw an opportunity to finally put everything down on paper and, er, exorcise the ghosts.
From the blurb:
Are ghosts real? The question has haunted us for ages. Almost every culture in the world has tales and stories of the unknown things that lurk in our periphery. Contained within are 26 true stories about ghosts, poltergeists, haunted houses, unexplained events, and possessed items. You’ll find stories about strange noises, objects that vanish and reappear in odd places, dolls that refuse to sit still, haunted battlefields, abandoned castles, and much more! But beware: after reading this anthology, you might just start believing in the things that are trapped out of time.
Featuring tales from Kristi Petersen-Schoonover, Errica Chavez, Judith Baron, Nat Whiston, Caryn Larrinaga, C. J. Hislop, Lisa H. Owens, Lehua Parker, Chris Tyroak, Amanda Cecilia Lang, Caillou Pettis, T. J. Tranchell, William Presley, N. A. Battaglia, Bryan Stubbles, Nathan Alling Long, Susan E. Rogers, Kelli A. Wilkins, John Stratton, C. M. Saunders, L. E. Daniels, Catherine A. MacKenzie, Rebecca A. Demarest, A. Morton, Brianna Malotke, and Nathan D. Ludwig.
Starring: Bruce Abbott, Barbara Crampton, David Gale, Robert Sampson, Jeffrey Combs
It’s been at least a couple of months now, so I think it’s about time we had another 80’s cheese fest. Re-Animator, aka H.P. Lovecraft’s Re-animator on account of being loosely based on Lovecraft’s 1922 work ‘Herbert West – Reanimator’ fits the bill perfectly. Directed by Stuart Abbott, who also directed From Beyond (1986), Dolls (1987) and wrote Honey I Shrunk the Kids (1989) and The Dentist (1995), it was originally intended to be a stage play, before given The Treatment, and that sense of intimacy has largely been preserved. With it’s a small cast, tightly-woven plot, and snappy dialogue, it’s easy to see why Re-Animator is now considered a bona fide cult classic. Shot in only 18 days, it is the first film in the Re-Animator series, and was followed by Bride of Re-Animator (1990) and Beyond Re-Animator (2003), neither of which hit the heights of the original.
After leaving his last place of education under something of a cloud, medical student called Herbert West (Combs) enrols at Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts (a fictional educational establishment in a fictional town in a real state), moves in with fellow student Dan Cain (Abbott), and then proceeds to turn the apartment into a laboratory. His experiments include killing and then re-animating Dan’s cat Rufus several times, much to the horror of Dan’s girlfriend, Megan (Crampton). Don’t worry, cat lovers, Rufus gets his own back. Dan tries to tell the Dean of the university (who happens to be Megan’s father) about West’s experiments but he is ridiculed, and the pair kicked out. They then hatch a plan to sneak into the morgue to use the reagent they have developed on a human subject to prove it works. It does, except the dead guy returns as a zombie-like crazed person. That’s when the Dean stumbles upon the scene, and shit gets really wild.
Producer Brian Yuzna (who played one of the hospital corpses, largely for his own amusement) described the film as having the “sort of shock sensibility of an Evil Dead with the production values of The Howling.” There are more than a few scenes to keep the gore hounds among you happy. My absolute favourite shows Dr Hill (Gale) in a role that the great Christopher Lee allegedly refused, removing skin from a corpse’s head on the way to extracting their brain, which he does with the words, “It’s very much like peeling a large orange.” According to IMDB, the special effects department went through 24-gallons of fake blood during the shoot, special-effects guru John Naulin said that Re-Animator was the bloodiest film he had ever worked on. In the past he had never used more than two gallons, which has to be some kind of compliment. Upon release, Re-Animator received an X (adults only) rating, and was later edited to obtain an R rating for video rental stores because some stores’ policies prohibited them from renting ‘unrated’ films with an MPAA rating of X. In the R-rated version, much of the gore was edited out and replaced with various scenes which had been deleted for pacing purposes, including a subplot involving Dr. Hill hypnotizing several characters to make them more suggestible to his will. A short scene was also added showing Herbert West injecting himself with small amounts of the reagent to stay awake and energized, which may have affected his thinking over the course of the film. On the other side of the pond, British Film Censors weren’t impressed with the scene where the severed head Dr. Hill attempts to rape Megan and refused to pass the film for release in the United Kingdom until the sequence had been cut. In Japan, the film is titled “ZOMBIO” though the title is dropped for the sequel because it translates as “Drifting Spirits” and makes no sense in the context of the film.
Re-Animator was received well, winning over many of the more arty critics. In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, “Re-Animator has a fast pace and a good deal of grisly vitality. It even has a sense of humor, albeit one that would be lost on 99.9 percent of any ordinary movie-going crowd.” In his review for the Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas said, “The big noise is Combs, a small, compact man of terrific intensity and concentration,” and David Edelstein, writing for Village Voice, an influential New York tabloid that closed in 2017, placed the film in his year-end Top Ten Movies list. In their book Lurker in the Lobby: A Guide to the Cinema of H. P. Lovecraft, Andrew Migliore and John Strysik write, “Re-Animator took First Prize at the Paris Festival of Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, a Special Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and even spawned a short-lived series of comic books. Even though it was a hit with audiences, the film generated a huge amount of controversy among Lovecraft readers. Fans thought the film a desecration of Lovecraft; their literary hero would never write such obvious exploitation!”
In December 1986, the year after Re-Animator was released, Barbara Crampton did a nude pictorial in Playboy magazine under the title, “Simply Beastly. Behind every successful monster, there’s a woman.” In an October 2020 interview with Entertainment Weekly, the then 61-year revealed that she was only given a second round of auditions for the role of Meg because the girl who won the part the first time around turned it down after her mother read the script and said “Oh, no. You’re not doing this.”
A year in China, Covid restrictions, and being old as fuck meant I hadn’t seen any live music for almost four years. That’s a long time, and it was always going to take something special to get me off my ass and down the front again. That ‘something special’ turned out to be a UK tour by The Dangerous Summer, one of my favourite bands of the past decade.
First, a word about the venue, Thekla. I love spaces with character, and being a converted cargo ship moored in Bristol’s Floating Harbour, Thekla has plenty of that. Built in Germany in 1958, it carried various cargoes between European ports until running aground off the coast of Northern England. And there it stayed, for seven years, until being bought, patched up, and sailed to Bristol by American novelist Ki Longfellow-Stanshall (who died earlier this year), her husband Vivian, and a small crew of volunteers, where it has played host to gigs, shows, and club nights since 1984. What a story.
TDS have to be one of the most underrated bands there is. I’ve been a fan since the Absolute Punk days (if you know, you know) and I reviewed both their 2019 album Mother Nature and their 2020 EP All That is Left of the Blue Sky right here on this blog. For all intents and purposes they are the definition of a cult band, and no doubt they’ll maintain that status long after they’ve gone. People will still be discovering them in 50 years time. Their fans know this. Musically, if you imagine a cross between Jimmy Eat World and Joshua Tree-era U2, with maybe a touch of My Chemical Romance or Alkaline Trio, you’d be half way there. Rather than try to make sense of my inadequate description it’s probably easier to just look them up on YouTube.
But first the support, Beauty School. I must admit I knew nothing about these guys. One of the joys of going to gigs, especially on the club circuit, is the opportunity to be blown away by bands you’d never heard of before. Granted, it doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it is a thing of beauty (school).
As I watched the Leeds-based five-piece plug in and tune up I must have looked like a curious spectator examining an especially interesting museum exhibit. They went about everything with gusto, and just seemed happy to be there. While most bands are preoccupied with image, one of these guys looked like Eddie the Eagle wearing a Leeds United shirt. I was curious to see what kind of noise a two-guitar set up would make, yet intensely wary of getting earfucked by a bunch of talentless northern reprobates. The tiny stage barely seemed big enough, especially when a man mountain with blue hair came bounding into sight holding a mic. I had barely finished asking myself who the fuck this might be when I realized it was the lead singer. Although a new band who have just released their first album, appropriately called Happiness, singer Joe Cabrera confessed mid-set that all the members were veterans of other bands and had presumably been on the circuit for years. This shines through in their playing, which is smooth, polished and full of energy. The highlight for me was Take it Slow and set closer Junior. They were so good I even forgave them for the Leeds United shirt.
I won’t waste time going over the history of a band with a lot of history. Let’s just say Maryland band TDS are out in support of their latest album, Coming Home. It’s been a long road. Soon after forming in 2006, they signed to Hopeless Records and put out a steady stream of quality material until 2013 when they took a 5-year hiatus. Since regrouping, you get the feeling they’re trying to make up for lost time. Long-time members AJ Perdomo (vocals and bass) and Matt Kennedy (guitars) have been supplemented by ex-Every Avenue guitarist Josh Withenshaw and demon drummer Christian Zawacki, who hits those things like a man possessed. The band’s entire chemistry is a thing to behold. They look like they’ve been playing together all their lives, and have no trouble replicating their studio sound in a live environment. If anything, the songs carry more weight, the musicianship even more impressively precise, and the lyrics even more impactful and emotive.
They start their set with Prologue from the aforementioned Mother Nature album, which isn’t a song at all but an intro fashioned from a genuine voice mail Perdomo received from a friend which became ‘It’s own piece of art’. This builds then segues effortlessly into Blind Ambition and the soaring title track from the new album, which judging by the reaction it received is already a crowd favourite. It can be tricky working new material into a set, but there were no such problems here. A lot of thought had gone into what was played when, and the newer material like Someday, which took its time to grow on me but now ranks in my top five, slotted in neatly with the more established crowd pleasers.
Way Down was every bit as powerful as you might expect, the crowd noise regularly drowning out Perdomo’s vocals, and Where I Want to Be, the first track from their 2009 debut album, almost brought the house down. For Bring me Back to Life Perdomo left his bass behind and got in the crowd. These kinds of antics usually come across as contrived, but on this occasion the sentiments seemed genuine. These are big songs, not just in stature, but scope and sheer presence. The only issue was the set having to be cut short because of an imminent club night, which smacks of either bad planning or simple greed, but was no fault of the band’s. They didn’t play my favourite song, either, but you can’t have everything. By the time we arrived at a euphoric closing one-two of Fuck Them All (which is nowhere near as aggressive as it sounds) and signature tune The Permanent Rain. I actually met a guy from Cardiff who said he’d named his own band after that song. There can be few greater compliments.
By the end of the set I felt like I’d been on a journey. I wasn’t quite the same person I’d been at the start. TDS have a back catalogue that puts most of their contemporaries to shame, and as they embark on this new chapter in their career having left Hopeless, gone indie, and then signed to Rude Records all in the space of a couple of years, they are destined to go from strength to strength. Don’t let them pass you by, or you’ll live to regret it. Come back soon, guys.