For those who have been following the great work at GiveAMask, I have a pair of articles published on their site, that you can find here and here. It was great getting to write for them, so check them out, along with the rest of their website.
I’ll have to make this a quick post as I’ve been quite busy of lately. I just wanted to give a shout out to a very interesting client of mine, Pedestal Search. They do really cool marketing work and have been great to work with.
Since that work load is going up there may be less personal posts on here – I’ll have to see what I can work out.
I mentioned way back that I’d like to talk about some of director John Carpenter’s less discussed films. I was going to go visit Prince of Darkness but I suppos speaking to my father recently put my mind more on the automotive.
Christine is an odd film in that it’s not often considered a” top” John Carpenter film, and yet its cultural reach is extensive, with the concept of the sentient, possessive machine being pervasive in our pop culture. Partially this could be because Stephen King’s original book was also quite popular, though the book also relies more heavily on the ghost of the owner of the vehicle as an antagonist, rather than purely the vehicle itself. Carpenter’s film is a stripped-down version of the story, but I feel that it’s this version that has seeped into our cultural consciousness.
To be fair, even Carpenter seems to not regard Christine too highly, describing it as “a job”, though later admitting that it did have a place for his love. Still, it’s hard not to imagine Carpenter’s mental state as he approached the film. His arguable masterpiece of The Thing had been savaged by critics and failed at the box office, being too perfect in its deployment of bleak horror for its 1982 audience to appreciate.
This makes sense given the timing – Christine was the next film he released after his arguable masterpiece of The Thing which tragically underperformed both critically and at the box office. Compared to the Lovecraftian styles and scopes of The Thing, Christine is a fairly simple setup; a nerdy teenager gets his first car, which is malevolent and sentient. As he rebuilds the car to its full glory, it slowly changes him from sweet shyness to cold arrogance, driving off under its own ability to kill his enemies, and then any rival for his affection.
At base, Christine is much less ambitious than something like The Thing, or even some other Carpenter horror outings like The Fog or Prince of Darkness. In many ways, it is a return to something like Halloween – a dark threat within small-town America. Just like in Halloween, it handles its smaller stakes well, with memorable characters and directing. Carpenter excelled at shooting for horror even when not making strictly horror movies. The film easily shifts from suburban greenery into bleak nighttime industrial and rural landscapes where Christine herself is free to run rampant.
What really elevates the film for me, however, is the oft-overlooked performance of its lead, Keith Gordon, as Arnie Cunningham, the owner of Christine. Technically his football-playing friend Dennis is the protagonist, who has to stop Arnie and Christine and gets the girl in the end. Keith Gordon is the real star with how well he portrays Arnie’s transformation from a wallflower to a cold and manic greaser. The film has a lot of erotic undertones regarding the titular vehicle, and it’s impressive that Gordon manages to capture this relationship without making it laughable. One of the best scenes is when Arnie first observes Christine’s supernatural powers of regeneration, staring with the fascination of a teenager first seeing a woman undress. He gives an equally on-point defense of his love of the car to Dennis as they speed down a darkened highway. Carpenter is able to take what could be a silly concept at base, and turn it into a compelling dark dynamic.
Christine is a film worth checking out for the acting of Gordon alone. Throw in some great directing, a few very neat effects (especially Christine’s ability to regenerate), and some wonderful music choices and it makes a very watchable horror flick.
Thomas Ligotti is often described as the “best kept secret” of the horror genre, often heralded by many as the greatest living practitioner of the art. Having read Songs of a Dead Dreamer a while back, I can testify to his skill as a writer, particularly of the horror short story. What I find fascinating about him is the position he takes among “modern horror”. When one generally thinks of the genre one thinks (or thought) of authors like Stephen King, though we may be out of that “golden age” of horror. Ligotti interests me so much because, despite writing during that golden age, he feels like a direct descendent of authors like Lovecraft or Machen, with a style that can be said to be distinctly “cosmic horror”. Ligotti deals with great terrors and madness that exist under the surface of reality, a world of decay and darkness always threatening to break through.
Stephen King, as an author, works so well because he is so in tune, at any given moment, with America and what makes America tick. A book like The Stand serves as a perfect snapshot of United States as the century came to an end (impressive given that it was written in 1978, albeit with an updated complete version in 1990). The horror of King works so effectively because he first digs the hooks of reality into you. Sometimes the perfectly mundane parts of King’s writing is the most disturbing, before anything supernatural arrives – he knows exactly what lurks just behind the façade of American life.
Even when Ligotti deals with American reality it feels somehow unreal – towns feel shadowy and incomplete and cities always put on their seediest masks. Ligotti and Lovecraft have mastered the art of playing the outsider, and making the reader feel that sentiment as well. Ligotti is less interested in what might horrify a specific viewer as he is with playing with the very stuff of horror itself. His stories are as likely to feature villains as much as victims, bystanders to horror as much as by-products of it. Sometimes his works at first hew closer to reality to better emphasis the break into the darkness, while other times his tales feel like strange and stilted plays, no less disturbing for their disconnected nature. In many ways, Ligotti feels like a painter with words.
In short, he feels like a sadly forgotten branch of horror where many of the tropes set down by Lovecraft continued on. This is not to say that I dislike Stephen King – indeed, he was a formative author for me, and hopefully I can take the time to write about him here. Ligotti is more a fascinating “what could have been” in the horror genre, with the exception that we are lucky enough to have his work to read, which I highly encourage.
I’ve written before on the Barsoom cycle, and its influence on me. Mars has always held such a fascination for people, being the closest of our planetary neighbours. As our understanding of our solar system increases, our dreams of Mars become increasingly prosaic – less swords and princesses, and more dreams of survival and colonization.
One of the best books about Martian colonization, and one that stands at the intersection of all our Martian dreams would have the be the The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury. The Chronicles themselves come in a deceptive humble package – a small collection of short stories and vignettes about humanity’s repeated attempt to explore Mars, followed by a final successful colonization. The Chronicles are thusly a “fix-up” in the manner of many other collections at the time, such as I, Robot.
While hypothetically a story about all of humanity colonizing Mars, the collection is really a story about America – which is appropriate, seeing as there are very few authors who had an understanding of America on such a deep practical and lyrical level as Bradbury. The stories begin with the failures of the first expeditions, which meet tragically gruesome fates due to native Martians. Once Earth diseases have eradicated the original Martians, the colonization of Mars gets into full swing – in this interpretation Mars is inhospitable, but still liveable. The world that the Americans build on Mars feels very reminiscent of the industrial and population boom of the 50s that was just starting, contrasting with the quiet remains of the old, delicate Martian cities.
Indeed, the Martians and their works are shown to be easily destroyed throughout the book, having a fragile quality to them. This suits the book’s meditations on the destructive side of humanity, from the physical aspects of nuclear war and rampant industrial to the more intangible but no less devastating effects of racism and anti-intellectualism. The book ranges over a wide array of topics, and yet keeps Mars feeling like a consistent place throughout, beginning to end. The stories within really feel timeless- reading them in 2020 it feels like the stories could have been written at any point past the 50s, with a lovely retro-science fiction sheen all over. Funny, sad and whimsical and equal measure, this collection remains unmatched to this day.
Sadly, the used bookstores are all closed in Toronto, so my supply of literature is running a little thin. I still had, however, some science fiction books still laying around that I hadn’t touched yet, one of which was VALIS, by Philip K. Dick.
As a big fan of Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and, especially, Ubik, I was interested in reading a book that has some notoriety attached to it. VALIS was one of the last works that Dick wrote, after a period where he had an intense religious experience – similar to his other later work, A Scanner Darkly. VALIS is therefore much less of a traditional science fiction novel, being more of an autobiographical account of a man attempting to reconcile his religious experience with extra-terrestrial and gnostic theories.
The book is interesting in that it attempts to somewhat cloak the autobiographical elements by introducing the main character as “Horselover Fat”, though it admits from early on that this is a thinly veiled pseudonym for Dick himself. (Clever linguists will be able to use Greek and German word origins to translate the term). Telling his story in the third person does not serve as a shock reveal, but rather to give the work a sense of disassociation. It’s impossible to tell how much Dick really believed what was in VALIS, but a good deal of it does match up with things that he claimed occoured to him during his religious experience – being struck with unearthly pink light and receiving information that was hypothetically impossible for him to understand. Dick’s later life was marked by a good deal of trauma, including marital issues and a suicide attempt, both of which are touched upon in the novel.
Despite this being more autobiography, or at least autobiographical expression, VALIS does share many similarities with Dick’s other work, touching on themes of the fragile nature of reality, identity and paranoia. No writer I have encountered has mastered the art of paranoia as Philip K. Dick did, with parts of Electric Sheep and Ubik reaching levels of anxiety not to be found in the most frightening of horror fiction when the questions of reality begin to be truly questioned.
Philip K. Dick was also deft at weaving warm humanity in with this cold paranoia, and VALIS may be most interesting as a work where the humanity and vulnerability on display was closest to his own. The actual plot of VALIS is fairly short and sweet, but it is the raw exploration of hurt that makes it so fascinating, even before it begins to leap into religion and science fiction.
Just a friendly message to say that I’m back from the holidays and hopefully can write some more content for here. I would have liked to have written a more substantial message, with perhaps some encouragement for the New Year, but it appears like this one is off to a dismal, if not unexpected, start.
Just wanted to share another piece I prepared for a really neat company I worked with – BetterLife Pharmaceuticals. If you’re into Health or Medicine, they have a really killer portfolio of stuff getting ready for launch
Like last week, I wanted to bring attention to a client I’m working with – one that’s very important to me in this age of disinformation and illness. Give A Mask is a Canadian Company that is helping donate masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. The masks are made in Canada, by Canadians and given out for no cost to those who need them. As masks are one of the best ways to not only stay safe, but keep others safe as well, I was eager to see if I could lend a hand. Check out their website to learn more about them, and about other associated charities.
In lieu of a regular post, I just wanted to take the time to highlight a really cool even, operated by a company I am working for. GaoTek is a company that works with ICT, RFID and IoT technology devices – all part of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In January, GaoTek is going to be running a series of virtual summits to keep the tech industry connected even in the midst of the pandemic. There are already a lot of really interesting and experienced speakers lined up, so I encourage you to check out the link below to learn more.