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NIGHTMARE ROYALE # 4: Six Horrible Things That Make Me Smile

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I’ve been banging away at this entry for weeks and weeks, trying to write something “serious” and “important”. Which therefore involved a lot of “pissing” and “moaning”. Always a terrible mistake. (Wanna listen to some old guy complain about the state of modern horror? ME, NEITHER!)

So here, instead, are six horrible things that made me happy over the last several weeks. Hope they make you happy, too!

1) BIG ASS SPIDER

The latest feature from director Mike Mendez (THE CONVENT, THE GRAVEDANCERS) is currently playing major festivals, as well it should, bypassing (for now) the cable network that put the long, painful Sy in Fy.

GOOD! Cuz let me say this flat-out: BIG ASS SPIDER is the single finest Giant Insect movie I have ever seen, with the possible exception of TREMORS, which it totally rivals in both spectacular scale and giddy, gruesome, hilarious charm. At a scandalous fraction of the cost.

As a guy who loves the living shit out of TREMORS, I do not say this lightly. But frankly, it’s the aptest comparison I have. Because everything TREMORS did right – which is pretty much everything – is echoed here in spades. The plot is propulsive and dialed super-tight. The action keeps coming. The gore is copious, occasionally harrowing, and always a blast. Even the smallest characters are fun, with great performances throughout.

But the main losers on which the whole things hangs – Alex the bug exterminator (Greg Grunberg) and Jose the hospital security guard (Lombardo Boyar) – have the kind of hilarious heartwarming fuck-I-LOVE-these-guys chemistry that Fred Ward and Kevin Bacon shared. Or Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as Shaun and Ed in SHAUN OF THE DEAD. It’s so good, so funny and fun to watch, that I wish I could fucking pop it in right now and fall asleep cackling.

SO PROUD OF EVERYONE INVOLVED, and the incredible spirit of the L.A. horror film community that threw in to help transport it waaaaaay beyond its meager means, bringing the most valuable commodity there is: ACTUALLY GIVING A SHIT. So much joy. So much spirit. So much hard work and loving attention to detail. All the things that make the difference between a shitty little film and a delirious brain bomb that won’t stop exploding with fun.

Mike Mendez should definitely spend the rest of his life making lafftastic kickass monster movies for us all to revel in. And if BIG ASS SPIDER doesn’t prove that, I just don’t know what will. If you can’t catch it at a festival, JUST WAIT! One way or another, it will be coming for you soon.

2) THE BABY (AT THE VISCERAL COMPANY)

Not to be confused with the Viscera Film Festival (which I’ll be writing about in a couple of weeks), the Visceral Company is L.A.’s premiere horror theater troupe, featuring mind-boggling work staged live in front of an audience. You know… the old-fashioned way!

I’ve seen five of their shows now, and loved them all — from actor/playwright Frank Blocker’s pair of virtuoso one-man shows (I think he played fourteen distinct characters in his SOUTHERN GOTHIC NOVEL, cutting back and forth with the breakneck velocity of young coked-out Robin Williams) to director Dan Spurgeon’s astonishing takes on Ira Levin’s VERONICA’S ROOM and the hallucinatory horrorshow KILL ME.

But THE BABY is something else again: a 75-minute onslaught of campy psychosis, beautifully adapted by Spurgeon from Abe Polsky’s script for the insane 70s cult film of the same name. It superbly stars Blocker as Mama Wadsworth, the deranged matriarch of the craziest clan this side of SPIDER BABY, and Jana Wimer as the twitchy, well-meaning social worker sent to investigate the titular “Baby” (Torrey Halverson): a beautiful, strapping young man in a diaper, with an infant’s intellect and motor skills.

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This is utterly sick shit, and hysterical throughout, with all the incest, murder, bright colors, brain damage, and bad disco dancing you could possibly dream of, capped off with a twist ending to die for (many do).

If you don’t live in L.A., and can’t catch this show live, then the least you can do is track down the original film. As directed by Ted Post (BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES), it belongs right next to PINK FLAMINGOS, THE BROOD and THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE as one of the weirdest, most alarming family sagas of its era. And I salute the Visceral Company for physically dragging it back to light.

3) THE DIPLOMAT – PIG DESTROYER

Phil Mucci is one of this era’s most staggering visual stylists: a director/scenarist/fx genius marrying the latest digital wizardry with the kind of old-school brilliance I associate with guys like Douglas Trumball (BRAINSTORM, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY). He’s best known for phenomenal, award-winning music videos for bands like Opeth (“The Devil’s Orchard”).

But his video for Pig Destroyer’s “The Diplomat” goes waaaay past standard music video duty, presenting one of the most powerful statements ever made about the apes we are, the weapons we’re deploying, and the forces that somehow think that’s a good idea.

And at roughly four-anna-half minutes, it’s also one of the best, most succinct horror films I’ve ever seen. I think Stanley Kubrick himself would be proud.

4) INHUMAN RESOURCES (aka REDD, INC.)

You think your hideous office job is shitty? You’re probably right. But you have no idea how bad it can get till you get a load of this brilliant Aussie horror flick – a genuine 21st century original – which takes corporate cubicle ass-slurping chaos to its ultimate psychotic extreme.

This is my favorite kind of movie: underfunded by any ordinary standard, but more than totally getting by on smarts and great production decisions, on top of a brilliant script. What it nails best is the endless nightmare quality of working in an office, day after day, in constant terror of being caught doing ANYTHING. Or as co-screenwriter Anthony O’Connersays, “Hell is a beige cubicle.”

Full disclaimer: I caught this on Cinemax, starting sadly seven minutes in. So I had no idea this was a Fango release. That it was Tom Savini’s return to the low-budget goretastic fx that rightfully made his name. Or that my beloved Chase (Rose) McKenna has a hilarious cameo right after the ultra-violent opening credits.

Had I known these facts, I’d say precisely same thing: Which is: I absolutely love this movie, and know it’s gonna be one of those little gems I’ll be showing my friends for the rest of my life. It’s precisely THAT MUCH fucked-up fun.

5) GLEE (THE “THRILLER” EPISODE)

I know. I know. GLEE? Am I serious? But as a matter of fact, I am.

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After falling head-over-heels for both seasons of AMERICAN HORROR STORY, I found myself stunned to discover that the geniuses behind it were also responsible for the all-singing, all-dancing, all-everything-I-never-thought-I’d-want-anything-to-do-with GLEE phenomenon.

At which point, my devious daughter Melanie said, “See? I told you it was good! Now you have to start watching it with me every week.” Which I have, at 2-4 episode gulps at a time. And I hope I won’t lose all credibility when I tell you that we sit there laughing and crying our asses off, while my one-year-old grandson learns that grownups are stupid, but really fun to dance with.

The only reason I bring this up is that the Season Two episode in question (“The Sue Sylvester Shuffle) – wherein the Glee club and the varsity football players who hate them are forced to come together and perform Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (mashed up with “Heads Will Roll” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) as the halftime show, in full zombie makeup – is genuine greatness. Particularly pertinent in the wake of DOMA’s collapse, with all its alleged “death of America as we know it” foofaraw. And one of the purest love letters to the shambling dead ever delivered to the non-genre mainstream audience.

It also helps explain why “The Name Game” musical number is the middle of AMERICAN HORROR STORY’s Season Two was so impeccably, perversely played. These guys had a lot of practice. And practice makes perfect.

Even if you don’t care to immerse yourself in the show as a whole, I highly recommend you check this particular astonishing episode out on Netflix, or wherever you may roam.

6) SURVIVOR TYPE

I think we can all agree that not every cinematic Stephen King adaptation is gold. For every masterpiece (CARRIE, THE SHINING, THE DEAD ZONE, STAND BY ME, MISERY, SHAWSHANK and arguably THE MIST among them), there’s a list as long as my arm of motion pictures and televised “events” that fell way the hell short of the mark.

But when they nail it, they remind us precisely why he is, in fact, The King: one of the greatest writers ever to rock the genre, and the man who’s done more to bridge the gap between ordinary people and their deepest fears than any other living American artist.

Perhaps his most purely horrifying short story of all time is “Survivor Type”, the tender tale of a man, an island, some surgical tools, no food, and several bricks of uncut heroin. If you’ve read it, I don’t need to say another word. If you haven’t, you’re crazy, and need to take care of this at once.

Or you could arrange for a hometown screening of Billy Hanson’s phenomenal short film, starring  Gideon Emery in an astonishing performance as the plucky title character who won’t take “No, I’m just  gonna die” for an answer. Made for a couple of grand raised on Indiegogo –  and optioned from King for a whopping one dollar – it is nonetheless one of the most jaw-dropping adaptations of his work ever made, at any price.

The trick here is that – as per the terms of King’s gracious $1 option – Survivor Type is not allowed to appear on the internet in any complete form, nor can Hanson ever make a single dime from its display. However, it is allowed to screen at film festivals, horror conventions, or public events like the free “Shorts 4 Show” night recently thrown in Hollywood, where I got to watch a room full of people laugh and shriek and lose their minds in the course of its awesomely-excruciating 30-minute running time.

So my advice to you is this: arrange a screening, by whatever means necessary. Every self-respecting horror fan owes it to themselves to load this fucker in through their eyeballs and ears. It will mess with you big-time, but you won’t regret it.

And ain’t that what great horror is all about?

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About the author
John Skipp
John Skipp is a New York Times bestselling author/editor/filmmaker, zombie godfather, compulsive collaborator, musical pornographer, black-humored optimist and all-around Renaissance mutant. His early novels from the 1980s and 90s pioneered the graphic, subversive, high-energy form known as splatterpunk. His anthology Book of the Dead was the beginning of modern post-Romero zombie literature. His work ranges from hardcore horror to whacked-out Bizarro to scathing social satire, all brought together with his trademark cinematic pace and intimate, unflinching, unmistakable voice. From young agitator to hilarious elder statesman, Skipp remains one of genre fiction's most colorful characters. Visit him at Facebook, or on Twitter @YerPalSkipp
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