The Night Chicago Died

One of the most enjoyable developments of the last ten years or so (maybe longer) has been the resurgence of horror television. I am not knowledgeable enough about the television history–I don’t really pay nearly as much attention to the entertainment industry as I used to; and I often find shows long after everyone else does. My memory, which used to be sharp as a razor, is quite a bit duller than it used to be. The embrace of horror themes and stories by television networks is something I endorse (crime has long been a mainstay of the networks); I am greatly enjoying The Exorcist, gave up on both Scream and Scream Queens during their first seasons, never finished watching Damien (which was cancelled after season one)…and then there’s American Horror Story.

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To be honest, I have a love/hate relationship with the show.

Paul and I are both huge fans of Jessica Lange, so we were tempted to watch for that reason; we both enjoy horror (Paul was the one who got me to watch not only the Halloween movies but the Scream ones as well). But we rarely watch television when it airs; our schedules don’t permit us to watch things regularly week by week. For years we simply waited for them to come on to Netflix and then would binge-watch; it was before Season 2, Asylum, began airing that I got a DVR so we could record the shows–back in the days of VCR’s we used to record shows all the time. So, as Asylum aired, we were also watching Murder House from Netflix on disc at the same time.

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The acting was fantastic; Jessica Lange was, as always, amazing. But my biggest fear about the show–Ryan Murphy as show-runner–too often proved to be true. It has been my experience that Murphy is a great ideas guy, but those ideas don’t often pan out into a long-term running show; Glee being the classic example. But I thought the anthology nature of this show–each season being a self-contained story, and using an ensemble cast–might work. Murder House was terrific, and of all the seasons, the most cohesive in terms of story-telling. Asylum was all over the place; after an amazing beginning in which Adam Levine died in a most horrible fashion, the show seemed more concerned with cramming in as many horror tropes as possible within the season: Aliens! Serial killers! Nazis! Biological experiments creating bizarre things! Demonic possession! And on and on and on. Paul and I soon lost track of the story and were just watching for the acting. We never did watch the season finale. But it did give us the wonder that was Jessica Lange singing “The Name Game”; Lily Rabe’s brilliance as the possessed nun; and Sarah Paulsen, after playing a small part in season one, getting a chance to truly exercise her acting ability as Lana, the reporter who winds up involuntarily committed.

My favorite season, though, is Coven.

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It was set in New Orleans, for one thing, and beautifully shot; it was almost a New Orleans travelogue. Kathy Bates was added to the cast, as was Angela Bassett; it was about witchcraft and a school for witches…and one of the girls was obsessed with Stevie Nicks, who even made two guest appearances on the show, but her music threaded through the entire season.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY: COVEN The Magical Delights of Stevie Nicks - Episode 310 (Airs Wednesday, January 8, 10:00 PM e/p) --Pictured: (L-R) Lily Rabe as Misty Day, Stevie Nicks as herself -- CR. Michele K. Short/FX

Miss Robicheaux’ School for Girls was even in my neighborhood.

But again, the writing was incredibly uneven and often times the story didn’t make any sense. The acting was terrific, though, and the visuals absolutely stunning. I even wrote a piece about how watching Coven for the Criminal Element website about how the show reminded me of why I fell in love with this crazy city in the first place.

The <i>Freak Show</i> season was again unevenly written, and this time the acting–the way the characters were written and so forth, wasn’t strong enough to really carry the show. It was also filmed here, with New Orleans standing in for Jupiter, Florida; the Mott mansion, for example, was Longue Vue. And Hotel was such a mess that we didn’t ever watch the season finale, like Asylum. We are watching the new season, Roanoke, and were very close to stopping watching until the big twist in episode 6–Murphy had hinted in interviews the show would flip, and so we decided to stick it out until then. But after the big flip–which was incredibly clever–it seems like the writing is going off the tracks again.

There have been amazing moments on the show, though.

I am curious to see where this season goes.

And now back to the spice mines.

Get Dancin’

The book is proceeding apace, but I do think this may be my last venture into writing any kind of erotica. I love the story I am writing, and I love the characters, but I am so tired of writing sex scenes. I don’t even want to think about how many sex scenes I’ve written. I never say never, of course–I may write another fratboy book; who knows? But right now I am enjoying writing the story but am having to force myself to put the sex scenes in. I wrote a really nasty poolside one today–it’s not that I can’t write them; like I said, the one I wrote today is hot and nasty; I just don’t find them as much fun to write as I used to.

Speaking of sex scenes and nudity (see what I did there?), a few entries back I mentioned how I described the HBO show True Blood as “Dark Shadows with sex, nudity and a lot more blood.” I stand by that description; the show was a serial, just like Dark Shadows, there were a lot of supernatural elements, just like Dark Shadows, and the primary story was a romance between a male vampire and a human woman, and the vampire was originally from the same area where the story was set. Like Maggie Evans, the object of Barnabas Collins’ dark desires, Sookie Stackhouse, our plucky heroine, was also a waitress at a local bar and grill.

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Whether True Blood was horror or not, I cannot say. As I said when I embarked on talking about my favorite horror this month, I pointed out that I am not well-read enough in the genre, or know enough about it’s history, to discuss actual aspects of the genre and what qualifies as horror or not. I think, like with ‘mystery,’ ‘horror’ has become a generic umbrella term for vast swatches of work that sometimes have as little in common as a tomato with a watermelon. Is a ghost story like Ammie Come Home horror? The book scared the crap out of me, but it was marketed, really, as romantic suspense with a touch of the paranormal. Are all paranormal novels horror? I am really not qualified to answer that question.

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I guess the best description of the show would be to call it a ‘paranormal soap.’ It had moments of suspense and terror, of course–and gore, and humor, and nudity, and sex. The story was interesting every season (the season about the maenad, not so much; Paul and I both got kind of bored with that season) to me. People often, on social media, talked about not liking the show or liking the show; but I’m not ashamed to say that I pretty much enjoyed it during its entire run. The problem, of course, was that they had to keep upping the stakes (no pun intended).

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It also had a diverse cast. Many of the characters, in fact, I found a lot more interesting that Sookie the mixed blood fairy and Bill the vampire; and there were some wonderful comedy moments as well–one of my favorites being when Tara is in a moody funk after her boyfriend Eggs turned out to be a serial killer and was killed himself, and Arlene, played brilliantly by Carrie Preston, snaps in exasperation, “So you fell in love with a serial killer? Who here hasn’t?”

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If there was any problem with the show’s writing, it seemed like they couldn’t make up their minds what Sookie was; sometimes she was this whiny, passive heroine things happened to; other times she was a badass with a smart mouth who took no shit from anyone.

And of course, my absolute favorite, Pam, never got enough story or scene.

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Even the annoying characters at the beginning eventually were developed into likable characters over the course of the show. Jason Stackhouse went from a self-absorbed young stud who loved and left every women he met, who was estranged from his sister, into a pretty decent guy who tried to do the right thing but just made bad choices. Of course, it didn’t hurt that Ryan Kwanten, who played him, was gorgeous.

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The first moment I saw him on screen I thought, “That’s who should play Scotty if that series ever is filmed.”

I’ve not read the enormously popular novels the show was based on–not from any sense that I wouldn’t like them; but again, one of those I just don’t have time to read them things. I’ve gone back and forth on that–Charlaine Harris is a terrific writer, and an absolutely lovely person–but maybe if I take another trip to a beach, like the Acapulco trip or Hawaii, I’ll take them with me to go and binge read.

The show was also filmed beautifully; it was filmed in Louisiana, and sometimes they were here in New Orleans filming, and Bon Temps was, like Collinsport in Dark Shadows, a kind of magnet for paranormal creatures and activity. I myself have always wanted to do this type of a series–I came up with an idea a million years ago–and even named my town, Bayou Shadows. My short story “Rougarou” actually took place in Bayou Shadows, Louisiana, and I’d intended for Need to eventually tie into that at some point.

Ah, well.

There was also a lot of homoeroticism in the show, and gay/lesbian/bisexual characters. I loved Lafayette, the gender bending short order cook/drug dealer/hustler who was also a medium.

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The show was also exceptionally clever, as I am sure the books were as well, about dipping into social issues.

And now back to the spice mines.

Ruby Red Dress (Leave Me Alone)

Twelve days left to Halloween.

I’ve talked about Dark Shadows already, and I’ve also talked about soap operas before. But a lot of what we see now on television is technically serials; most series now are serials, where the action of each episode is picked up from where it left off in the previous one; continuity is important; and what happens in each episode has a causal effect on the characters for many episodes (and seasons) to come. I can remember, while True Blood was airing, and I was describing it to a friend who didn’t watch…and finally, I said, “It’s kind of like Dark Shadows with nudity, sex, and a lot of blood.” (I intend to talk about True Blood before Halloween, but this is not the entry.) It was kind of true, and I intend to draw those comparisons when I talk about True Blood –but today I am going to talk about another serial television show involving the supernatural (I don’t know that I can call it, fairly, horror) that Paul and I enjoyed watching: Dante’s Cove.

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I probably would have never known about Dante’s Cove if I hadn’t been working as an editor for Harrington Park Press at the time. Here TV was doing those adaptations of the Richard Stevenson/Don Strachey novels, and were also developing a series called <I>Dante’s Cove</i>. HPP was bringing the Strachey books back into print with tie-in editions, and Here was interested in having Dante’s Cove be novelized with tie-in editions. I thought it sounded interesting (it was pitched to us as “gay Dark Shadows“), and was interested in doing the novelizations myself, so Here sent me the pilot and the first season on DVD to watch.

The story was, actually, rather similar to the Dark Shadows opening: a young person comes to Dante’s Cove/Collinwood at the same time as a centuries old supernatural creature arrives, released from being imprisoned apparently for all time. Dark Shadows had Victoria Winters and Barnabas Collins the vampire; Dante’s Cove had Kevin and Ambrosius “Bro” Vallin. While Barnabas spurned the love of the witch Angelique, who cursed him and turned him into a vampire, leading his family to chain him up in his coffin; Ambrosius was a practitioner of magic called Tresum, and was engaged to a high priestess of the religion, Grace Neville. Grace caught Ambrosius literally being fucked in the ass by another man, whom she killed with magic, and she, too, cast a spell that locked him up for all eternity. Except Kevin, who comes to Dante’s Cove after being thrown out by his homophobic family to be with his lover Toby, unknowingly releases Ambrosius from his prison–which also triggers Grace to return.

Grace was played by Tracy Scoggins, best known for playing Monica Colby on first The Colbys, and then later on Dynasty.

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There were various characters, lesbians, gay men, straight boys, and varying storylines. Toby, the male lead, was played by Charlie David.

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Kevin was played by Gregory Michael, who also later turned up on the show Greek.

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Arrow’s Stephen Amell was in the first season as an asshole straight boy who was recast in Season 2.

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There was lots of male nudity–including full frontal–and the men always looked like they were covered in oil. Reichen Leimkuhl, who won The Amazing Race and was later on the terrible rip-off of Real Housewives type shows The A List–New York, joined the cast in Season 3. And Thea Gill from Queer as Folk, also joined in Season 2 as Grace’s sister and mortal enemy, Diana.

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Like I said, lots of pretty shirtless men, bare male asses, and the occasional male full frontal.

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The primary problem with Dante’s Cove, I felt, was bad writing and bad directing, as well as some serious continuity problems. The actors did their best with what they were given, but they just weren’t given enough, and it seemed like it was trying to be too serious. But a supernatural-themed soap opera with gay and lesbian characters that could get away with nudity shouldn’t have taken itself quite so seriously; it should have gone for humor and camp, and I bet it would have really caught on. (As I’ve said about other shows, “it wants to be Tennessee Williams when it should be going for Melrose Place.”) We were entertained, and we enjoyed watching it, but there was always such a sense of what it could have been. In the third season, the show went more along a campy route, giving the characters great bitchy quips, and it looked liked it had found its way…but alas, it wasn’t to be. It was cancelled. There was a spin-off show about a lair of vampires who lived in a sex club called The Lair that was also fun, and looked like it was hitting its stride at the end of its first season…but there wasn’t a second season, alas.

The novelizations, alas, never happened, which was also incredibly disappointing. I really thought I could make it a lot of fun…but alas, it is another one of those ‘wasn’t meant to be’ things.’

It would be kind of fun to rewatch…

And now back to the spice mines.

I Think I Love You

The 1980’s were an interesting time. The decade is sort of a blur for me in some ways–there was a lot of pot smoking and alcohol abuse and of course, the cocaine issue–but I also had fun, or so it seemed at the time. I sometimes wonder, when I am given to reflect on the past (something I seem to be doing more and more as I age) how different my life would be had I not, in fact, been living a double life in my twenties. But of course, these are the sort of things that are immaterial ultimately; if any single one thing in my past had been different, my life as I know it now would be different, and I am enormously happy with my present life. And I do remember that period of my life fondly; I remember going, many times, into a marijuana induced coma with friends while we watched endless hours of MTV, back when it used to actually show music videos.

Another popular show that we watched through the smoke was a syndicated series called Friday the 13th–the Series.

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Every episode of the show began with a voice over:

“Lewis Vendredi made a deal with the devil to sell cursed antiques. But he broke the pact, and it cost him his soul. Now, his niece Micki, and her cousin Ryan have inherited the store… and with it, the curse. Now they must get everything back, and the real terror begins.” 

Part of the problem, you see, was originally Micki and Ryan decided not to keep the store and had a big sale to get rid of everything inside. Then Jack Marshak, an expert in the occult, showed up and told them about Uncle Lewis’ deal with the devil and that every item in the store was cursed. In the first episode, they didn’t believe him, of course, until they started tracking down one of the items. Each cursed item had some kind of power related to what it was; a Cupid had the ability to make anyone fall in love with the person who owned it, for example. The problem was the blood curse on every item–in exchange for the use of the item’s power, the person using it had to kill someone, or the item itself would kill someone. The show followed the three–Jack, Micki, and Ryan–as they tried to track down each item.

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The reason I even discovered the show in the first place was because one of my friends thought Robey, the actress who played Micki, was hot.

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She almost always wore white cotton tank tops without a bra, in typical 80’s exploitation.

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She also had a bad case of serious 80’s hair.

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But it was a clever idea for an anthology/horror/supernatural style series, and it last three seasons. I kind of got sucked into it, and still remember it fondly. It was syndicated, so it was much lower budget than it would have been had it aired on a network. It was available for streaming on Amazon Prime recently, and the last time I was doing cardio I was rewatching….alas, for my month of horror, it’s no longer available. Rewatching made me realize just how low budget the show actually was; but it would be a great thing to reboot for the modern audience.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Love Will Keep Us Together

Yesterday, since there wasn’t an LSU game to stress over, I simply did chores and idly watched (had the television on while I read or did chores) some games–Texas A&M vs. Tennessee; Alabama vs Arkansas, Florida State vs Miami–until we started watching some of our shows. I have to say, given what has been going on in the country over the last few years, and particularly since Friday; Friday night’s episode of  The Exorcist was especially powerful. What I really enjoyed about it was it showed how seductive evil can be…and the scene on the el, when Casey was basically being groped and assaulted by the drunk bro in front of everyone who watched and did nothing? Absolutely horrifying, and yes, while not wanting to provide spoilers, I had no sympathy for the dude bro.

Kind of how like in Carrie, I didn’t have much sympathy when the bullies started getting theirs.

But while I was watching football games yesterday, I was also rereading Danse Macabre by Stephen King. It’s really quite exceptional, even better than I remembered; it’s an examination of the horror genre from a personal perspective, but it’s incredibly smart. It could, quite seriously, be a text for a Genre Fiction class. It’s written in, as I mentioned, an incredibly accessible style, yet it also delves into serious scholarship and examination of the primary themes in the genre. It really, really is quite brilliant.

I overslept this morning, of course, as I am wont to do on Sundays, but the great thing about it is that I feel completely rested for the first time in days. I’ve already done the dishes, intend to clean up around here, and then I am going to write for a while. Then in the later afternoon, I am going to take my camera out into the neighborhood and take some pictures. There are some interesting changes going on down on Magazine Street.

Oh, yes, horror; I am supposed to be talking about horror, aren’t I?

When I was a kid, ABC used to made-for-TV movies and aired them on Tuesdays as the ABC Movie of the Week. Some of them were ‘important dramas’; like Go Ask Alice; some were bad comedies, some were mysteries, and some were horror. Many of them were quite terrible, but some of them were memorable; they often used film stars past their prime, and while I admit I’ve not seen any of them in years, the first one I remember–one that terrified the crap out of me–was Crowhaven Farm; which is on Youtube, and I have it on my watchlist, but haven’t gotten to it yet–partly because I fear it won’t hold up, and what scared a ten year old might seem silly to an adult.

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I don’t remember the entire plot, but it had to do with a city couple either inheriting or buying Crowhaven Farm, and moving out to the country because their marriage was struggling; partly because they hadn’t been able to conceive a child. Once they reach the farm, though, the wife–Wikipedia tells me her name was Maggie–starts remembering things about the farm that she couldn’t possibly know; she walks over to a wall and touches a secret latch that opens a panel to a secret room, for example. She starts having flashes of a past in Colonial times; and there are ghosts walking around Crowhaven Farm–that apparently have it in for her. They take in a foster child but then Maggie learns she is pregnant…and some of the memories have to do with her being ‘pressed’–a punishment where suspected witches were placed beneath a wooden panel and stones piled on it until she is crushed to death (it always seemed like an unpleasant way to die to me). Back in Colonial times, the area had it’s own Salem-like witch issues, and it turns out that Maggie, back then, escaped death by pressing by ratting out some other witches who now want to get even with her in THIS life.

The ending was especially scary to me.

I used to watch the movie every time it aired, because I enjoyed it so much…and I’ve never forgotten about it, either. It popped back into my memory when I remembered that Barbara Michaels’ superb ghost story Ammie Come Home had been made into a Movie of the Week called The House That Would Not Die, starring Barbara Stanwyck, and went looking for it. I found it on Youtube…which suggested Crowhaven Farm to me.

Good stuff.

I also hope to start reading Bracken MacLeod’s Stranded tonight.

And now back to the spice mines.