Monthly Archives: October 2014

Psycho-Babble: Random Thoughts on Alfred Hitchcock’s Classic Psycho

Tagline for this film classic: “Thank God its only a movie.”
Psycho is based on a book by Robert Bloch and a screenplay by Joseph Stefano – and this is one of those rare cases where the screenplay is actually an improvement on the book. The book isn’t bad, but the screenplay is truly a classic.
The story is an in-depth study of the normal world versus the dark side. Let us compare and contrast:

Normalcy/respectability versus abnormality/immorality

Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) Marion steals a large sum of money.
works as a secretary. She wants She sleeps with a married man.
to get married and settle down.

Fairville, California A remote, roadside motel

Sam Loomis (John Gavin) works Lonely Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins)
at a hardware store. runs the motel and practices taxidermy.

Lila Crane (Vera Miles) misses her Norman dresses as his dead mother.
sister Marion and searches for her.

Terror on the Wing
A surreal bird motif runs throughout Alfred Hitchcock’s movie:
The shower scene has avian overtones – just listen to the shrill, birdlike tones of Bernard Hermann’s music. The shadow of the long knife stabbing at Marion is reminiscent of a bird’s beak, pecking at prey. Pictures of birds are scattered on the walls in Marion’s room. And, of course, Marion’s last name is Crane.
Norman is very birdlike himself. He is thin, with an angular face and nervous eyes. His behavior is hermit-like – he doesn’t want to fly the coop. He even stuffs dead birds. His house is perched on a hill, the evil inside ready to fly down in a destructive fury.
The camera-work features high angles – bird’s-eye views.
Norman’s mother is also very birdlike: she’s stuffed, like one of Norman’s winged taxidermy projects. Norman said, “Birds are so non-aggressive.” Really? What about eagles, owls, falcons, ravens and vultures? Even chickens peck at each other, and Norman’s mother certainly pecked without mercy at him.
Plus, the birds in Hitchcock’s The Birds were super-aggressive! (Is Norman giving us a preview of things to come…?)

Annex - Leigh, Janet (Psycho)_01

Ironies in Psycho
Much of the movie’s plot is skillfully foreshadowed by clever, ironic bits of dialogue.
“A boy’s best friend is his mother,” as stated by Norman, is ironic because his mother is dead and still lives on as one of his spilt-personalities.
Norman also states, “Mother’s harmless – like a stuffed bird.” This is horrifically ironic because she really is stuffed like a bird.
“We all get into our private traps,” Marion says as she enters the motel of doom.
“It’s stuffy in here,” states Norman in his mommy persona, talking from the fruit cellar. Well, Mommy is stuffed, so that statement is true in more ways than one.
“Mother’s not quite herself today” – the understatement of the century!
Norman says, “A son is a poor substitute for a lover.” He ended up killing his mother because she took a lover.
Norman also says of his mother, “I hate what she has become.” Well, sure: she’s moldy and rotten. And actually, her personality is what Norman has become.

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(The house in Psycho)

The Other Psycho Movies

Psycho (1960). Rating: ****

Psycho II (1983). Directed by Richard Franklin, the Australian director who did the cult flick, Patrick. Screenplay by Tom Holland (who wrote such films as Class of 1984, Fright Night, Scream for Help, Child’s Play, Stephen King’s Thinner.) Anthony Perkins returned as Norman, and Vera Miles returned as Lila Loomis. Dennis Franz has an interesting supporting role. Meg Tilly is sexy as an ex-nun and Norman’s love interest. Rating: ***

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Psycho III (1986). Starring and directed by Anthony Perkins, with a script by Charles Pogue. For the most part, a misfire – at least Tony Perkins got two paychecks out of it. Rating **

Psycho IV: The Beginning (1990). Directed by Mick Garris (creator of Masters of Horror and director of such films as Sleepwalkers, The Stand, and Stephen King’s Riding the Bullet). Olivia Hussey does an outstanding job playing Norman Bates’ mom. Anthony Perkins is also superb. Another outstanding script by Joseph Stefano. Rating: ****

Psycho (1999). Director Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy, Good Will Hunting, and Last Days) remakes Psycho in color, and purists are offended. The screenplay is yet another gem from Joseph Stefano, and the music score again comes from Bernard Hermann. Marion Crane is portrayed by Anne Heche and Vince Vaughn takes on the role of Norman Bates. Julianne Moore plays Lila. Personally, I loved it. Rating: ****

Psycho on The Tube

Bates Motel is an A&E TV series that started in 2013 and begin on for two seasons now and Season Three starts in 2015. This series is a contemporary sequel to Psycho and focuses on teenager Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) will end being, well, Norman Bates. Great performances by Vera Farmiga who plays Norman’s mother, Norma Louis Bates, Max Thieriot who plays the step-brother. The real scene-stealer of the series has been Nestor Carbonell as Sheriff Alex Romero who looks a lot like Anthony Perkins. The first two seasons Bates Motel has been creepy, chilling and refreshing expanding the Psycho legacy. Rating ****

Psycho_(1960)

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To Wake The Dead (Book Review)

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To Wake the Dead (Book Review)
by Richard Laymon, Leisure Books, 384 pgs. (hardcover)
$24 (hardcover), $7.99 (paperback), 2003, ISBN: 0-8439-5104-4
Rating: ****

This first-edition hardcover horror novel concerns a 4,000-year-old mummy wandering around in modern-day California.
Yes, you read that correctly – a mummy.
There haven’t been that many mummy tales hitting book shelves lately. The silver screen has been amply illuminated by the Universal franchise of fear – The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, and The Scorpion King. But bookshelves have been fairly barren on the subject until now. Both Laymon and Joe R. Lansdale (who released Bubba Ho-Tep) have penned novels offering new slants on mummies.
In To Wake the Dead, Amara, the Princess of Egypt, is collecting dust in the mansion of the rich and elderly Robert Callahan. Then the corpse is freed of its wrappings during a foiled burglary attempt and all hell breaks loose.
This novel is free flowing; taking unexpected twists and turns. Laymon presents many different story lines: a romance between a police officer and an assistant curator of a museum; teenagers held in cages by a sex-crazed maniac; a crazy street person with an obsessive crush; three runaway teens from South Carolina escaping from a horrible past; a blind lady lonely for love; and 38 pages of “The Memoirs of Robert Callahan,” all sewn together better than Frankenstein’s monster – all so perfect and seamless.
To Wake the Dead is a wild ride, a perfect mix of helter-skelter horror and humor. Another macabre masterpiece by Richard Laymon – with an introduction by Dean Koontz! What more could you ask for?

(The book is now available as an ebook too)

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Big Bug Movies (Reviews)

In honor of my story “Giant Cockroaches From Outer Space” in the book PARTNERS IN SLIME by Michael McCarty and Mark McLaughlin …. I bring you the Big Bug Movie Reviews

Buggin’ Out! Top Ten Big Bug Movies (Reviews)

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(Movie poster from The Giant Spider Invasion)

Born in the Atomic Age, science fiction and horror films featuring big bugs crawled onto cinema screens in the Fifties and haven’t stopped crawling ever since. Why? Simply put, fear of the bomb and the fear of bugs combine well in creating terrifying tales. Let’s take a look at the top ten big bug epics.

Them! (1954), directed by Gordon Douglas
Mutated giant ants run amok and wreck havoc in a New Mexico town, making their way to the sewers of L.A. – the first big bug movie of the Atomic Age, and still one of the best. Look hard and you’ll see a young Leonard Nimoy (of Spock fame) without pointed ears. This film scared my mother when she was a kid: coming home from the theatre, the chains on the car tires sounded just like the giant ants in the film. It still holds up today and was paid tribute to in Eight Legged Freaks.

The Monster that Challenged The World (1957), directed by Arnold Laven
A campy classic and actually, there are several monsters – giant, bug-eyed caterpillars that challenge the Navy after the discovery of strange eggs. This is a cult film that is loads of fun to watch at 3 a.m. during a thunderstorm. Oooooh, scaaaary!

The Deadly Mantis (1957), directed by Nathan Juran
A gigantic praying mantis is frozen for a million years until a volcano awakens it. The insect goes on a rampage, destroying Washington, D.C. and New York City, until the military is sent in to gas it. The special effects are pretty spectacular for a 1957 movie.

Mothra (1962), directed by Inoshiro Honda
Perhaps one of the most poetic and beautiful of all bug movies, Mothra starts out as a giant caterpillar that invades Tokyo searching for some lost friends – tiny twin princesses from her island. The princesses were stolen away by an evil entrepreneur, and Mothra will do whatever it takes to get them back.
The caterpillar ravels herself in a cocoon and soon emerges as a giant moth that knocks over buildings with the hurricane-level winds from her beating wings. Mothra has appeared in a number of additional movies, including Mothra Versus Godzilla (1964), Ghidrah, The Three-Headed Monster (1964), Godzilla Versus the Sea Monster (1966), Godzilla Versus Mothra (1992), and Mothra (1996).

The Giant Spider Invasion (1975), directed by Bill Rebane
A meteorite carrying spider eggs crashes in Wisconsin and soon, giant spiders are crawling all over the place. Don’t you hate when that happens!
It’s very likely that this inspired Eight Legged Freaks. One of the funniest and goriest moments involves a spider and a blender. The biggest spiders look like furry Volkswagens.

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(Movie poster from Tremors)

Tremors (1989), directed by Ron Underwood
There’s a lot of Fifties-style big-bug fun in this flick. A tiny desert town is besieged by man-eating worm creatures with big teeth. Amusing special effects and plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor help this picture along. In Tremors 2: Aftershocks, the critters grow legs, and in Tremors 3: Back to Perfection, there is a cheesy theme-park based on the monsters. The Sci-Fi Channel ran a short-lived Tremors TV series.

Mimic (1997), directed by Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo del Toro’s Cronos is one of the creepiest and most innovative vampire movies from south of the border. Religious and government undertones make things even creepier. Here, there’s good usage of setting with the New York subway’s underground tunnels, and the giant cockroach creatures are nasty and effective. Del Toro went on to direct Blade II.
Followed by the sequels Mimic 2 and Mimic 3: Sentinel.

Starship Troopers (1997), directed by Paul Verhoeven
This outer-space epic, based on the Robert Heinlein young adult classic, is a great shoot-’em-up featuring the military versus monster-bugs from outer space. Paul Verhoeven keeps the thrills and special effects up throughout the film, and it’s a lot better than his other science-fiction films, RoboCop and Hollow Man.

Eight Legged Freaks (2002), directed by Ellory Elkayem
Mutated spiders grow to gigantic size after a toxic spill in the sleepy town of Prosperity, Arizona. Doug E. Doug steals the show as Harlan, a radio talk-show host who spouts out about UFOs and government conspiracies from his mobile home in the desert. The special effects are outstanding and there are plenty of creepy-crawlies around.

Slither (2006), directed by James Gunn
Directed and written by James Gunn (who also wrote the Dawn of the Dead remake), this isn’t actually a BIG-bug movie, since it’s filled with little squiggly space-slugs. But there are so many of them, their combined bulk adds up to humongous proportions. Besides, I like the movie and it’s my list, so I guess it’s okay for me to break my own rules!
The sleepy town of Wheelsy is awakened by the landing of a meteor. Before you know it, the police chief (Nathan Fillion) and his crew are battling mutated aliens and zombies – but the slimy space-slugs soon steal the show. Creepy, gory, and fun, Slither is a great tribute to the drive-in low-budget science-fiction horror flicks of the Fifties and Sixties – but with a bigger budget.

Honorable mentions: Attack of the Giant Leeches (1959), Bug (1975), Earth Vs. the Spider (1958 and 2001), The Fly (1958 and 1986), Godzilla Vs. Mothra (1968), and Tarantula (1955).

Partners in Slime

I hope you liked the Big Bug Movie reviews.
Please check out the short story “Giant Cockroaches From Outer Space” in PARTNERS IN SLIME by Michael McCarty & Mark McLaughlin. Ready to read at the links below:

(Kindle & trade paperback) http://www.amazon.com/Partners-Slime-Michael-McCarty-ebook/dp/B004PYDI42

(Nook) http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/partners-in-slime-mike-mccarty-mark-mclaughlin/1105652103?ean=9781615723492

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Pink Floyd “The Wall” (The Movie)

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My review of PINK FLOYD THE WALL (Movie)

Pink Floyd: The Wall
Columbia Music Video, 1982
Screenplay by Roger Waters, DVD produced by James Gutherie. 95 minutes

Pink Floyd: The Wall is a darkly surreal, brilliant movie combining the talents of filmmaker Alan Parker and Pink Floyd’s songwriter, Roger Waters. It’s also a semi-autobiographical story about the character of Pink Floyd (played by Bob Geldof, the lead singer of The Boomtown Rats), loosely based on Roger Waters’ life.

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(Bob Geldof as Pink)

The story begins as superstar rock ‘n’ roller Pink sits locked in his hotel room in Los Angeles. Too many shows, too much dope, too much applause, too much lingering pain: the result is a burned-out basket case.
Pink sits in front of a television set, watching an old war movie. He ventures into his painful childhood memories, each a “brick” in the wall he has slowly built around his feelings. He remembers his father being killed in World War II at Anzio.
Successful rocker Pink has been wobbling “on the thin ice of modern life” (a line from the song “Thin Ice”). His life is bleak, with a deceased father absent from his life, an overprotective mother and a sadistic schoolmaster. The wartime blitz in England only added to the torture of growing up. He becomes a neurotic mess. All of this costs him his marriage, his sanity – and nearly his life (in a bizarre suicide-attempt scene).
The movie’s climax features Pink slowly withdrawing from the real world and slipping further into his nightmare as he imagine himself as an unfeeling demagogue. Pink and his group impersonate a fascist band that demonstrates their power over an unthinking, blitzed-on-drugs audience.
The film’s most bizarre scene is “The Trial” in which the very people who contributed to the building of Pink’s wall (mostly his mother, father, schoolteacher, and wife) come forward and testify against him.
Pink is forced to break down his wall of self-protection and show his true feelings. The film concludes with the song “Outside The Wall,” which reveals the fragile side of Pink.1 Pink

Pink Floyd: The Wall is told simply with the music of Pink Floyd, images and special effects. There is no conventional dialogue to advance the plot. The absence of dialogue is very effective and the Dolby sound system does the film justice.
Some people may not consider Pink Floyd’s music their cup of tea. But when combined with Gerald Scarfe’s animation, the movie should intrigue even non-Floyd fans. Jeffrey Lyons of Sneak Previews liked the movie and he doesn’t own any Pink Floyd records or intend to go out and buy their music.
This is Bob Geldof’s first movie and he fills the role convincingly. He makes the character real, a musician with a sensitive soul, being battered by society at every turn and then retreating into his own fantasy world.
Alan Parker, who directed such movies as Midnight Express, Fame, and Shoot the Moon, chalked up another masterpiece, and a very dark masterpiece at that. There are over thirty songs in the movie, with three songs created especially for the film.
Gerald Scarfe’s animation is breathtaking. One of the eeriest moments occurs during the song, “Goodbye Blue Skies,” when a British flag becomes a giant grave-marker/cross with blood slowly trickling down, courtesy of Scarfe’s animation. Wild and haunting, this is a movie you won’t soon forget.
The deluxe DVD features The Other Side of the Wall, a 25-minute documentary about the making of the movie, with commentary provided by Roger Waters and Gerald Scarfe, Alan Parker, Peter Biziou, Alan Marhsall, and James Gutherie.

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Die Laughing: The Inside Story About Laughing In The Dark

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Once upon a time, I use to do stand-up comedy. I would get up a stage, in front of a room of strangers, with a bright spotlight shining on me, as I’d tell jokes for money. I know, it was a strange way to make money. I performed in the Quad Cities, Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Chicago and St. Louis. I did this for five years and had a lot of fun doing it.

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(What I looked like back then, when I performed comedy.)

It is kinda hard to describe my performance. It was a little bit of everything. I did prop jokes. I’d put a pot on my head and say, “I’m a pothead.”

I performed a song I wrote called “Joan You Make Me Moan,” which was broadcast about a dozen times on the Dwyer & Michaels show on 97X.

I guess you had to be there, to appreciate.

Eventually, I gave up stand-up comedy to write books.

I hope, you the reader will think I made the right decision.

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(Another happy reader of LAUGHING IN THE DARK)

The reviews for LAUGHING IN THE DARK rolling in and the laughter keeps ’em rolling in the aisles:

(Critical Mass)
Review by Don D’Ammassa
“The marriage of horror and humor has usually proven to be an uneasy one, but sometimes a combination of thrills and chuckles works. Author Michael McCarty demonstrates his talent for arranging successful combinations in the majority of these stories, a blend of new and reprint, mostly quite short. There are two dozen stories here in about 150 pages. Some of the titles hint at the jokes – “The Pet Exorcist Files,” “Stephen King and the Pit Bull from Hell,” and “Wile E. Wanker and the Death by Chocolate Manufacturing Plant.: Roald Dahl, Stephen King, William Peter Blatty, W.W. Jacobs, and Mary Shelley are a few of the writers who provide inspiration for these tales. They’ll tickle your funny bone rather than rip it out of your flesh, metaphorically speaking. 9/29/14”
(Hellnotes)
Reviewed by Sandra Scholes
“Many of us have read horror anthologies from authors who are already established or those who are new to the genre. So for me at least it is very rare to read a series of short horror stories written by a former stand-up comedian.
The front cover does a lot to introduce Michael McCarty and his stories of humour, horror and the very voodoo inspired Professor LaGungo. As the picture, is a comedian doing his usual stand-up routine in front of an audience, he doesn’t look like an ordinary comedian – he is a skeleton smiling in front of an uneasy audience.
Damnation Books publish many anthologies including Mark McCarty’s A Hell of a Job and Partners in Slime which he co-wrote with Mark McLaughlin. In Laughing in the Dark, Michael McCarty co-writes some of the stories with various comic collaborators; his wife Cindy, Jody R. LaGreca, Sandy DeLuca and Mark McLaughlin. As Laughing in the Dark is the first anthology by Damnation Books that I have read, I have no other comparison book to base this one on, but the stories are bite-sized and are about themes that run through the horror genre, vampires, zombies, possessed pets, killer kittens, gator guys and even seven foot dancing cockroaches.
In Stephen King and The Pit Bull from Hell this story has a wannabe writer trying to emulate Stephen King’s life, thinking he can be as successful as him if he does. This is one example of how McCarty can take an idea and turn it into a funny story; the protagonist goes through hell trying to live up to King’s pedigree as a writer with disastrous consequences. McCarty takes standard horror ideas and adds his own flair to the characters and situations he puts them in. when a character interviews some of the best names in horror history, writers, devil worshippers, even Satan himself, it’s intended to end with a shocking, but humorous ending.”

Kindle & Trade paperback) http://www.amazon.com/Laughing-Dark-Michael-McCarty/dp/1629291269/ref=la_B001JS0L06_sp-atf_image_

(Trade Paperback)
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/laughing-in-the-dark-michael-mccarty/1119562051?ean=9781629291260

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