New Releases 10/17

Moviesspiderman
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Girls Trip
Lady Macbeth
Landline
Shot Caller
The Real Story: Saving Private Ryan
America: Promised Land
The Skyjacker’s Tale
Farewell Ferris Wheelthe collection

TV Series
The Collection
Marcella, Season 1
American Gods, Season 1

Music
Beautiful Trama by P!nk
Colors by Beck
Add Violence by Nine Inch Nailspink
Queens of the Breakers by The Barr Brothers
WOW Christmas Volume 1
Carry Fire by Robert Plant
Mr. Davis by Gucci Mane
Christmas Together by The Tenors
Our Christmas Wish by The Ten Tenors

Audiobooks
Deep Freeze by John Sandfordit devours
It Devours! by Joseph Fink
Killing Season by Faye Kellerman
Lilac Lane by Sherryl Woods
Endurance by Scott Kelly
Leonardo da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union

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Supernatural Hollywood Horror of the Sound Era: A Brief History

“One distinction I want to make, a point I am always careful to make in this country and abroad, is that I differentiate between the entertainment ‘terror’ in the Poe pictures and the modern ‘psychological’ terror films.”
Vincent Price in Monsters, Maidens & Mayhem:  A Pictorial History of Hollywood Film Monsters (1965)

A Symbiotic Relationship

Question #1:  Is terror the same as horror?  Can those terms be used to distinguish between supernatural fright films (horror) and movies based on mental, medically explainable aberration (terror)?

Question #2:  when is a horror film actually a science fiction film, and vice versa? Frankenstein (1931) is usually reckoned a horror film, but it is also science fiction.  It has a laboratory and a scientist using technology to resurrect the dead or create life from the body parts of various corpses.  Alien (1979) is generally thought of as a science fiction movie.  It has the technological hardware and takes place in space (In space no one can hear you scream read the poster), but it is also creates a sense of dread.  Likewise, one of Alien’s inspirations, The Thing from Another World (1951) featured a being from outer space desiring human blood for itself and its progeny.  So it’s a vampire?  The Halloween and Friday the 13th franchises pose this conundrum:  are Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees undeads inexplicably, i.e., unscientifically, returned to life?  Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980) skirt the issue.  It is only in the ensuing films that some, often lame reasons are posited about these killing machines.  In Halloween 4:  The Return of Michael Myers, Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Loomis calls Michael “evil on two legs.” One can detect an element of the supernatural in Jason’s first outing:  the finale suggests he is capable of living underwater.  In Friday the 13th Part 6 (1986) Jason is resurrected via “Frankenstein” methods, i.e., lightning.  Have we therefore crossed the line into science fiction?  In the final analysis, it might be best not to ask too many questions about character creation and motivation in what are often termed “slasher” movies.

For the purposes of this piece, horror will only apply to the supernatural, thus leaving out such terror films as Psycho, Blood Feast, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Scream, The Silence of the Lambs, and Saw.

Creation

After the advent of sound films in 1927, horror came rapidly to the fore as a distinct genre.  Although wildly different in tone, like the musical, horror seemed to provide catharsis for audiences suffering through the Great Depression.  Hollywood horror was influenced by German expressionistic cinema, e.g., The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), The Golem (1920), Nosferatu (1922).  With Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein Universal Pictures started a trend and became the go-to studio for tales of vampires, werewolves, mummies, and lab-created human beings.  Universal created the models we still follow as it delved into the arcane and eldritch in The Mummy (1932), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Werewolf of London (1935), Dracula’s Daughter (1936), Son of Frankenstein (1939), and The Wolf Man (1941).  Other studios did on occasion jump on the bandwagon and backed some films of equal significance, e.g., Paramount’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), Warner Bros.’ Doctor X (1932), United Artists’ White Zombie(1932).

The films of the era contain the lines we quote and parody today:

“Look, it’s moving.  It’s alive.  It’s alive.  It’s alive.  It’s moving.  It’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive, it’s alive.  It’s alive!  In the name of God, now I know what it feels like….”  (Frankenstein)

“Alone, bad.  Friend, good.  Friend, good!”  (Bride of Frankenstein)

“Listen to them.  The children of the night.  What sweet music they make.”

“I never drink—wine.”

“The spider spinning his web for the unwary fly.  The blood is the life, Mr. Renfield.”  (Dracula)

Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers at night may turn to a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the moon is full and bright.”  (The Wolf Man)

Taking a more somber tack in the 1940s was RKO, where Val Lewton produced and sometimes co-wrote a series of moody, dark thrillers, all of which possessed an undercurrent of unease and terror, some of which could be construed to or in fact did contain supernatural elements:  Cat People, Isle of the Dead, I Walked with a Zombie, The Body Snatcher, The Leopard Man, The Seventh Victim, Curse of the Cat People. 

Real ghosts—as opposed to those who turn out to be hoaxes—inhabited several sterling horror films in the ‘40s.  Prime examples were MGM’s The Canterville Ghost (1944), Paramount’s The Uninvited (1944) and Fox’s The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947).

Horror Down, Science Fiction Up

The creation of the atomic bomb in 1945 sounded a temporary death knell for traditional cinematic horror.  Science fiction came to the fore whereas the number of bona fide science fiction films prior to the splitting of the atom had been negligible.  These included Just Imagine (1930), The Invisible Ray (1936), and Dr. Cyclops (1940).  After ’45, with the advent of the A-bomb and the knowledge of radiation and mutation, plus jet planes, rockets and the possibility of space flight, what humans could do and might do for good or evil supplanted what began to seem quaint.  Universal parodied itself in 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.  In 1950, with Destination Moon, science fiction was put on the track into a golden age.  [see “The Golden Age of Science Fiction Movies, 1950-1956” on the Multimedia Blog, March, 2013]  Spaceships, mutants, giant ants and spiders and mantises, thawed-out dinosaurs, a plutonium blast that made a man a giant, radiation from an alien that made a woman a giant, a radioactive cloud that made a man bug size, alien invaders—these got the public’s attention.  It didn’t last, however.  Increasingly, science fiction movies became B-movies, i.e., cheaply made programmers with outre titles such as The Brain from Planet Arous (1957), Invasion of the Saucer Men (1957), Attack of the Puppet People (1958), The Alligator People (1959), Invisible Invaders (1959).

Horror Resurgent

Perhaps science fiction’s loss of prestige made it easier for horror to retake its position in the fantastic film firmament.  If the early Hollywood sound horror films had been inspired by Germany, Britain spurred this latest change when in 1957 Hammer Studios released The Curse of Frankenstein—in color!  Hammer followed with Horror of Dracula (Dracula in the U.K.).  Both were extremely successful.  Gothic horror would dominate Hammer films for more than a decade, with the studio remaking The Mummy, continuing the Dracula and Frankenstein series, adding its own werewolf and zombies, and creating the “Karnstein Trilogy” featuring voluptuous female bloodsuckers.  Peter Cushing, who played Van Helsing in the vampire films and the doctor in the Frankenstein sagas, and Christopher Lee, the face of the new vampire count, became cult stars.

Hollywood took notice, and “The King of the Bs,” director Roger Corman at American International Pictures, gained fame with adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories even if at times only the title was Poe-inspired.  House of Usher (1960) starred Vincent Price, the tall, dark supporting player of many mainstream Hollywood films.  He was to become a cult star himself, working for Corman in, among others, Tales of Terror, and The Raven.  Sometimes Corman went far afield, literally.   The Masque of the Red Death (1964) and The Tomb of Ligeia (1964) were filmed in England.  Novelist Stephen King reckoned that along with the Hammer films, Corman’s The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) paved the way toward explicit gruesomeness.  Vincent Price opened the coffin of his wife to find her body frozen in rictus, her hands held up in a desperate attempt to push off the bier’s lid.  She’d been buried alive!  This, observed King, demonstrated how far filmmakers were going to go to shock us.

The Corman films and science fiction and horror movies in general catered to the youth market, aka baby boomers, and were fodder for matinees and drive-ins.  “Gimmick” horror films, some of which were bogus horror (rational explanations offered during the finale) came from the entrepreneurial mind of producer William Castle.  On the Macabre (1958) poster audience members were informed that “Any member of the audience is insured for $1000.00 against DEATH BY FRIGHT during the performance of this terrifying picture.”  In Halliwell’s Film Guide, British author and critic Leslie Halliwell aptly observed:  “We are not aware that the money was ever paid.  But then, if someone did die of fright, how would they prove it?  (Having seen the picture, we can definitely say that death by boredom is more likely.)”  In The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film, author Michael Weldon called it Peyton Place set in a graveyard.

Castle continued the horror gimmick route with House on Haunted Hill (1959).  In some theaters a skeleton on a wire rocketed out above the audience.  For The Tingler (1959) a device known as “Percepto” was used to vibrate selected seats when the title creature escaped its human bonds in a theater.  (Shades of The Blob!)  Warned Vincent Price, “Ladies and gentlemen.  Please, do not panic, but scream!  Scream for your lives!  The Tingler is loose in this theater, and if you don’t scream it may kill you.  Scream!  Scream!  Keep screaming!  Scream for your lives!  Ladies and gentlemen, the Tingler has been paralyzed by your screaming.  There is no more danger.  We will now resume the showing of the movie.”  A pseudo-3-D was used in 13 Ghosts (1960).  Featuring a “Fright Break,” Homicidal (1961) was a Castle film obviously owing a debt to the previous year’s Psycho.

A mix of horror and science fiction took place in 1957 with three films, all with a Hollywood staple, the mad doctor.  Two featured Whit Bissell in this role:  I Was a Teenage Frankenstein and I Was a Teenage Werewolf.  In the latter he proclaimed himself the world’s benefactor who through hypnosis would unleash “the savage instincts that lie hidden within.”  Moreover, “Mankind is on the verge of destroying itself.  The only hope for the human race is to hurl it back into its primitive dawn, to start all over again.  What’s one life compared to such a triumph?”  In Blood of Dracula a young woman was transformed into a demonic-like killer.  The real villainess played by Louise Lewis told her charge, “Power, especially the power to kill, is never pretty.  It won’t go on much longer.  In time you’ll be proud of the part you played in saving mankind.  Here, drink this.”  The potential for atomic annihilation might be the subtext for one or more of these cheaply made but very successful movies.

Other low-budget horror films of the era included Curse of the Undead (1959), about a vampire gunslinger, and The Return of Dracula (1958).  High class horror was represented by The Haunting (1963), directed by Academy Award-winner Robert Wise.

Zombies had a history before 1968’s Night of the Living Dead.  In White Zombie (1932), the coach driver played by Clarence Muse explained, “Yes, monsieur.  Zombies.  The Living Dead.  Corpses taken from their graves or made to work in the sugar mill, or fields at night.  Look!  Here they come!”  After Lewton’s I Walked with a Zombie (1943), the title character had little exposure on cinema screens.  A small comeback occurred in 1966 with Hammer Studio’s Plague of the Zombies, but in 1968 that there was a real breakthrough, and what a resurrection it was:  George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.  (“Don’t you know what’s going on out there?  This is no Sunday school picnic!” railed Duane Jones)   Were these zombies of supernatural or scientific origin, e.g., a virus?  It took another decade for Romero to jump start this oeuvre with Dawn of the Dead After that came a zombie boom with increasingly fast-moving undeads that has yet to abate.  At the time, many reviewers were appalled.  Even the exceptional genre magazine Castle of Frankenstein called Night of the Living Dead “putrid.” Variety, the Bible of the entertainment industry concurred:   “Casts serious aspersions on the integrity and social responsibility of its Pittsburgh-based makers,…the film industry as a whole and exhibs who book the pic, as well as raising doubts about the future of the regional cinema movement and about the moral health of filmgoers who cheerfully opt for this unrelieved orgy of sadism….No brutalizing stone is left unturned….”  .  (Director George Romero had been said to be making a racial statement by having a black man, Duane Jones, as his star, but the director told a West Chester University audience in 2000 that he chose Jones as his lead because he was the best actor in his cast.)

A Brief Sci-Fi Boom

Quality science fiction made a comeback the same year with two large-scale smash hits:    Planet of the Apes and 2001:  A Space Odyssey.  Nevertheless, it would take a decade for a true high-quality science fiction film boom to materialize.

TV Horror, Blaxploitation, Possession

Dark Shadows was an afternoon TV soap opera that ran from 1966 to 1971.  Jonathan Frid became famous as the vampiric Barnabus Collins.  The series spawned two decent theatrical films with the TV cast, House of Dark Shadows (1970), and Night of Dark Shadows (1971).

Robert Quarry had his moment in the sun in Count Yorga, Vampire (1970) and The Return of Count Yorga (1971).  In the latter he watches Hammer Studios’ The Vampire Lovers (1970) on TV.

“Blaxploitation” was not just private eyes (Shaft, 1971), bank robbers (Cool Breeze, (1972), pushers (Superfly, 1972), ‘Nam vets taking their revenge on the mob (Slaughter, 1972), or pimps (The Mack, 1973).  Horror was part of this oeuvre, most notably Blacula (1972) and Scream, Blacula, Scream (1973) with classically trained actor William Marshall giving gravitas to the title character.  Played straight, both were frightening and amusing tales.  Thalmus Rasulala, the heist planner in Cool Breeze, played the vampire hunter in Blacula.

Films of possession were next in the pipeline.  Preceded by 1972’s The Possession of Joel Delaney with Shirley MacLaine, The Exorcist (1973) captured the public’s imagination.  Two Blaxploitation horrors were concerned with possession:   Abby (1974) and J. D.’s Revenge (1976).   Stephen King’s novel Carrie became a surprise hit in 1976.  That same year The Omen (1976) reinvigorated superstar Gregory Peck’s career.

Coexistence

As noted, in terms of quality and scale, there had been no immediate science fiction consequence for Planet of the Apes and 2001:  A Space Odyssey until Logan’s Run (1976), which while an often silly version of the novel did make money and portended a new age of handsomely-produced science fiction movies.  The following year came Star Wars, in 1978 Superman, and in 1979 Star Trek:  The Motion Picture.  Nevertheless, horror was not supplanted, and in 1978 another ground-breaker was released.  John Carpenter’s Halloween featured the unstoppable Michael Myers, hiding his face behind a William Shatner Star Trek Captain Kirk mask.  This ostensible lunatic returned to Haddonfield, Illinois to terrorize the community.  Even though Tommy (Brian Andrews) knew “You can’t kill the boogeyman,” Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode managed to confound him, or…it!  How could he take bullets and fall from the second floor and escape?  The success of the film spawned a series, as did 1980’s Friday the 13th.  Counselors at a deep woods summer camp (where there are no screens on the windows) find their number reduced by a maniacal mother and in the ensuing films her equally murderous offspring, Jason Voorhees.  Curiously, actress and former game show guest Betsy Palmer turned out to be the maniac, Jason’s mother who lived a double life:  “Kill her, mommy.  Kill her.  Don’t let her get away, mommy.  Don’t let her live….I won’t, Jason, I won’t!”  As the series progressed, Jason became a truly supernatural entity who like Michael Myers could take a licking and keep on ticking.  Some critics found the subtext to be warnings about teen sex and its ramification, e.g., death.

Since the 1980s, horror movies—some major, many independent and in some instances made on a shoestring budget but looking good and, as Variety might have said, generating coin—have coexisted with science fiction on a fairly equal basis. Based on Stephen King’s novel, Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining (1980) was a deeply disturbing film, with Jack Nicholson (who’d served some of his film acting apprenticeship in The Raven and The Terror) become iconic as the increasingly maniacal and possessed Jack Torrance  (“Here’s Johnny!”).  Some of the groundbreaking horror films since The Shining are The Evil Dead (1981), The Howling (1981), An American Werewolf in London (1981), Poltergeist (1982), The Blair Witch Project (1999), and The Last Exorcism (2010).

In addition to Michael Myers and Jason, Freddy Krueger joined the pantheon of horror movie icons in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).  Most of the sequels were actually good.

As it had been influenced by silent German films and in the 50s British Gothics, Hollywood would look to Japan for some of its recent projects, e.g., The Ring, The Grudge, Silent Hill.  As with science fiction, sequels and remakes became de rigueur.  Videogames such as Silent Hill found themselves filmed, often to no good effect.

And today?  Without excessive fanfare, in 2017 Stephen King’s giant novel It, which had been a 1990 2-part TV mini-series, became an immensely popular feature film.  Shortly after release it surpassed The Exorcist as the highest-grossing horror movie of all time in the United States.  Chapter Two is in the works.

It is fitting that coexistence between horror and science fiction has continued in recent decades, with Jason Voorhees himself (itself?) transplanted onto a spacecraft in Jason X (2001).  It remains a symbiotic relationship and helps explain why Horror, Science Fiction (and Fantasy) comprise a specific film genre.

By Kim

References

Beau.  “Night of the Living Dead.” Variety, October 16, 1968, p. 6.  [film review]

Castle of Frankenstein, July 1970, p. 60.  [Night of the Living Dead review]

Halliwell, Leslie.  Halliwell’s Film Guide:  A Survey of 8000 English-Language Movies1977.

Hardy, Phil.  The Encyclopedia of Horror Movies.  1986. 

King, Stephen.  Danse Macabre.  1981.

Steiger, Brad.  Monsters, Maidens & Mayhem:  A Pictorial History of Hollywood Film Monsters.  1965.

Weldon, Michael.  The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film.  1983.

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New Releases 10/10

Movies
Maudie
The Beguiled
Baby Driver
The House
Wish Upon
Othello
Pilgrimage
Escape Artist
The Midwife
Good Things to Do
Tolkien & Lewis: Myth, Imagination, and the Quest for Meaning
Meat
Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent

T.V. Series
Murdoch Mysteries: Once Upon a Murdoch Christmas
Reign, Season 4
IP Man, Season 1
Sharpe, Season 2

Music
Take Me Apart by Kelela
As You Were by Liam Gallagher
Phantom Anthem by August Burns Red
Lost in Translation by New Politics
Wow Hits 2018
This Ride by Jerrod Niemann
Christmas After Midnight by Fantasia
Love Rides a Dark Horse by Gill Landry
Playboi Carti by Playboi Carti
Nashville Sessions, Volume 1 The Duets by Dave Stewart
Heaven Upside Down by Marilyn Manson

Audiobooks
An Irish Country Practice by Patrick Taylor
Children of the Fleet by Orson Scott Card
Fairytale by Danielle Steele
The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

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Nobel Prize in Literature 2017: Kazuo Ishiguro

 

Congratulations to author Kazuo Ishiguro, who has been named this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature! Ishiguro was chosen for his “novels of great emotional force… [he] has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world” (The Nobel Prize in Literature 2017).

If you’d like to become familiar with this newly-minted Nobel Laureate, you can check out one of his books on CD. We also have also have ebooks and eaudiobooks available via OverDrive, which you can access using the OverDrive or Libby apps, or via https://chester.overdrive.com/. Enjoy!

 

“The Nobel Prize in Literature 2017”. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 10 Oct 2017. <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/2017/index.html&gt;

Images from http://catalog.ccls.org/.

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New Releases 10/3

Movies
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man Tell No Tales
The Book of Henry
Churchill
A Ghost Story
Cult of Chucky
Realive
When Calls the Heart Movie Collection: Year 4
13 Minutes
The Ornithologist
The Women’s Balcony
Mr. Gaga
Rescue Brooklyn: Sean Casey Animal Rescue
The Farthest: Voyager in Space
Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria
Diana: 7 Days
Wild West

T.V. Series
Loch Ness, Series 1
2 Broke Girls, Season 6
The Wizard of Lies
Vikings, Season 4 Part 2
American Horror Story: Roanoke
The Son, Season 1
House of Cards, Season 5

Music
Younger Now by Miley Cyrus
Tell Me You Love Me by Demi Lovato
Visions of a Life by Wolf Alice
Now by Shania Twain
New Worlds by Bill Murray & Jan Vogler
Sorry is Gone by Jessica Lea Mayfield
The Desaturating Seven by Primus
Harmony of Difference by Kamasi Washington
Glory Song by Matt Redman
Game of Thrones Season 7 Score
Inspirational by Celtic Thunder
Close by Marvin Sapp
Bluebird of Happiness by Tamar Braxton
Let’s Play Two by Pearl Jam

Audiobooks
Winter Solstice by Elin Hilderbrand
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View
Lightning Men by Thoman Mullen
Without Merit by Colleen Hoover

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New Releases 9/26

Movies
47 Meters Down
Transformers: The Last Knight
Big Pacific
David Lynch: The Art Life
Life on Parole

T.V. Series
Longmire, Season 5
Ned and Stacey: The Complete Series
Shameless, Season 7
Sleepy Hollow, Season 4
Halo: Nightfall

Music
Everybody by Chris Janson
Strange Peace by Metz
What’s That Sound? by Haley Reinhart
Fool’s Paradise by Cold Specks
The Long-Awaited Album by Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers
Roll with the Punches by Van Morrison
Gossip by Sleeping with Sirens
On a Distant Shore by Leon Russell
Wonderful Wonderful by The Killers
Luciferian Towers by Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Let Love Rule by Ledisi
Everybody Knows by Stephen Stills & Judy Collins
BCCIV by Black Country Communion
Hiss Spun by Chelsea Wolfe
Gemini by Macklemore
Double Dutchess by Fergie

Audiobooks
Sleep Like a Baby by Charlaine Harris
Holly and Ivy by Fern Michaels
Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben
Sleeping Beauties by Stephen Kin & Owen King
A Casualty of War by Charles Todd
NPR American Chronicles: The New Americans

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Man Booker Prize Short List and Long List

The Man Booker Prize announced this year’s short list on September 13th, and will announce the winner on October 17th. Check out the list below of the short list and long list winners (those listed within the short list also appear on the long list). Stay tuned for this year’s winner of the Man Booker Prize!

Short List

4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster – Nearly two weeks early, on March 3, 1947, in the maternity ward of Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, Archibald Isaac Ferguson, the one and only child of Rose and Stanley Ferguson, is born. From that single beginning, Ferguson’s life will take four simultaneous and independent fictional paths. Four identical Fergusons made of the same DNA, four boys who are the same boy, go on to lead four parallel and entirely different lives.

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund –  Isolated at home and an outlander at school, Linda is drawn to the enigmatic, attractive Lily and new history teacher Mr. Grierson. And then the young Gardner family moves in across the lake, and Linda finds herself welcomed into their home as a babysitter for their little boy, Paul. It seems that her life finally has purpose but with this new sense of belonging she is also drawn into secrets she doesn’t understand. Over the course of a few days, Linda makes a set of choices that reverberate throughout her life. As she struggles to find a way out of the sequestered world into which she was born, Linda confronts the life-and-death consequences of the things people do-and fail to do-for the people they love. [Chester County Library currently only has a physical and e-book copy of History of Wolves.]

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid – In a country teetering on the brink of civil war, two young people meet – sensual, fiercely independent Nadia and gentle, restrained Saeed. They embark on a furtive love affair, thrust into premature intimacy by the unrest roiling their city. When it explodes, turning familiar streets into a patchwork of checkpoints and bomb blasts, they begin to hear whispers about doors – doors that can whisk people far away, if perilously and for a price. As violence and the threat of violence escalate, Nadia and Saeed decide that they no longer have a choice. [Chester County Library currently only has a physical and e-audiobook copy of Exit West.]

Elmet by Fiona Mozley – Daniel is heading north. He is looking for someone. The simplicity of his early life with Daddy and Cathy has turned sour and fearful. They lived apart in the house that Daddy built for them with his bare hands. They foraged and hunted. When they were younger, Daniel and Cathy had gone to school. But they were not like the other children then, and they were even less like them now. Sometimes Daddy disappeared, and would return with a rage in his eyes. But when he was at home he was at peace. He told them that the little copse in Elmet was theirs alone. But that wasn’t true. Local men, greedy and watchful, began to circle like vultures. [Chester County Library does not currently have a copy.]

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders – February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns, alone, to the crypt several times to hold his boy’s body.

Autumn by Ali Smith – Smith’s newest novel, Autumn, is the first installment in a quartet, Seasonal, which is comprised of four stand-alone books, separate yet interconnected and cyclical, explores what time is, how we experience it, and the recurring markers in the shapes our lives take and in our ways with narrative. The novel is a stripped-branches take on popular culture and a meditation, in a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, what harvest means. [Chester County Library currently only has the physical copy of Autumn.]

Long List

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry – Thomas McNulty, having fled the Great Famine in Ireland and now barely seventeen years old, signs up for the US Army in the 1850s and with his brother in arms, John Cole, goes to fight in the Indian Wars– against the Sioux and the Yurok– and, ultimately, in the Civil War. Orphans of terrible hardships themselves, they find these days to be vivid and alive, despite the horrors they see and are complicit in. An intensely poignant story of two men and the makeshift family they create with a young Sioux girl, Winona.

Solar Bones by Mike McCormack – On All Souls Day, the late Marcus Conway returns home. Solar Bones captures in a single relentless sentence the life and death of this rural Irish engineer, and his place in the globally interconnected 21st century. The book takes in local municipal failures and global financial collapse, the quotidian pleasures of family, ancient history and the latest headlines, the living and the dead. [Chester County Library currently only has the physical copy of Solar Bones.]

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor – From the award-winning author of If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things and Even the Dogs, Reservoir 13 tells the story of many lives haunted by one family’s loss. An extraordinary novel of cumulative power and grace, Reservoir 13 explores the rhythms of the natural world and the repeated human gift for violence, unfolding over thirteen years as the aftershocks of a stranger’s tragedy refuse to subside. [Chester County Library currently only has the physical copy of Reservoir 13/]

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy – An intimate journey of many years across the Indian subcontinent. The tale begins with Anjum–who used to be Aftab–unrolling a threadbare Persian carpet in a city graveyard she calls home. We encounter the odd, unforgettable Tilo and the men who loved her–including Musa, sweetheart and ex-sweetheart, lover and ex-lover; their fates are as entwined as their arms used to be and always will be. We meet Tilo’s landlord, a former suitor, now an intelligence officer posted to Kabul. And then we meet the two Miss Jebeens: the first a child born in Srinagar and buried in its overcrowded Martyrs’ Graveyard; the second found at midnight, abandoned on a concrete sidewalk in the heart of New Delhi.

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie – Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, an invitation from a mentor in America has allowed her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half the globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed. [Chester County Library currently only has the physical copy of Home Fire.]

Swing Time by Zadie Smith – Two dancers with different approaches to their craft share a complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, in a story that transitions from northwest London to West Africa.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

 

Summaries and images taken from catalog.ccls.org.

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Fungus Films: Oh, the inhumanity!

“Dave, make ‘em listen to me!  There is a monster!
We saw it again in dad’s store—and it’s bigger now!”
Steve McQueen, The Blob (1958)

Unremarked upon outside science fiction fandom (and hardly there) is the golden age of theatrical “fungus films.”  No, wait!  The golden age of fungi on film was the only age of fungi on film.  It began in 1955 and for all intents and purposes ended almost where it began, with a 1988 remake of its iconic 1958 predecessor.  The fungi film was probably doomed because audiences generally would rather watch characters matching wits with other bipeds or darned smart aliens rather than unthinking globs of protoplasm.  Moreover, there’s something inherently revolting about death by blob.

Let’s explore this phenomenon whose heyday really concluded in 1972.  “The Golden Age of Science Fiction Films” (see Multimedia Blog, March, 2013) began in 1950 and ended in 1956.  This period coincided with Cold War paranoia, and many science fiction films of the period had a Cold War subtext often discovered in retrospect.  In The Thing from Another World (1951), Invaders from Mars (1953), It Conquered the World (1956) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), for instance, humans are either killed for blood, implanted with mind-control devices, or mysteriously transformed into soul-less pods.  The analogy is with totalitarian communism, a convenient bogeyman for politicians stoking fear among the citizenry in the West.  In these scenarios the human body remains essentially intact.  Not so with fungus films.  The entire body is consumed, almost always from the outside, often as a result of one touch to the alien entity.  It seems a stretch then to analyze these science fiction movies from a Cold War perspective.  The human mind is of no concern to the (mostly) mindless goo, liquid, slime, mold, gelatin or crusty substance thrust upon the human.

The first fungus film was in many respects the best:  The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), released in 1956 in the U.S. as The Creeping Unknown.  The well-respected writer Nigel Kneale’s stories of Professor Quatermass had originally been made for British TV and were mightily popular.  The film version of what would become a trilogy did what a number of Brit films would do to increase worldwide, specifically U.S., profits:  casting one or more American “names,” in this case the venerable character actor Brian Donlevy as an irascible Quatermass.  (Dana Andrews was enlisted for Night of the Demon, Gene Evans for The Giant Behemoth and Forrest Tucker for The Abominable Snowman.)  Generally considered miscast by highbrows (tell that to impressionable youth!), Donlevy provided a certain gravitas in this and its sequel.  In the film, a British rocket crash lands on earth.  There had been three crew members, now there is only one.  What happened to the other two?  Examination of the rocket’s interior reveals a strange organic substance behind the bulkheads.  This material apparently consumed the missing crew members, and the mute survivor is undergoing his own horrible metamorphosis.

On the heels of The Quatermass Xperiment came another British film, X the Unknown (1956).  Here again, an American actor starred.  Dean Jagger even had a Supporting Actor Academy Award to his credit for Twelve O’Clock High (1949) and was then and is now remembered for playing the general for whom Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye put on the show in 1954’s White Christmas.  In X the Unknown, British soldiers come upon a gravel pit spewing radiation.  Dr. Royston (Jagger) hypothesizes that intelligent beings developed in subterranean caverns and periodically make their way to the surface.  What with humans now experimenting with radiation, these creatures have deadly interest in us.  In Keep Watching the Skies! , Bill Warren described the creature as “a tremendous sheet of radioactive living mud.”  Similarities with The Quatermass Xperiment are rife.  Jagger is another incarnation of Quatermass, the film is in black and white, and the cinematography suitable for noir or in in this instance horrible, mostly unseen monsters.

The sequel to The Quatermass Xperiment was released in 1957:  Quatermass 2, aka Enemy from Space.  This time out Quatermass (once again the brusque and demanding Donlevy) discovers an alien plot to invade earth after creating masses of “food” in gigantic vats at Wynerton Flats, a secret government facility.  As with The Quatermass Xperiment, director Val Guest filmed in semi-documentary fashion.  In fact, this film looks like it was made a decade previously.

The subterranean gunk of X the Unknown was joined by another under-earth goo in 1957’s The Unknown Terror.  This grows in a Latin American “Cave of the Dead,” where an American doctor facilitates its development.  The subtext here is actually Mala Powers’ negligee, which in time-honored horror film style she wears while naturally wandering into the nighttime jungle searching for…raggedly men covered in what critics derisively termed “soap bubbles.”

Chronologically, Japan was next up with a fungus film.  The H-Man (Bijo to Ekotai Ningen) was released there in June, 1958, in the U.S. in May, 1959.  Again, humans create and facilitate the menace.  Radioactivity turns Japanese fishermen into nebulous creatures that can devolve into a rapidly moving, deadly goo.  Don’t dare touch it!

Space Master X-7 (1958) features the intriguingly named “blood rust,” an outer space fungus unknowingly spread on earth by a woman believing the authorities are pursuing her for murdering the scientist who in reality succumbed to the alien entity.  A nationwide hunt is undertaken to find the woman, whose possessions contain fungal spores.  Here, as in The Quatermass Xperiment, a semi-documentary approach lends verisimilitude to the proceedings.

Equally dangerous is The Blob (1958), still the most famous of fungi films.  Outer space is again the source.  When a meteorite is cracked open, its gooey innards flow up a stick and onto the human inspecting this visitor from space.  In due course it consumes his body and crawling around the small town by night increases its size with every human it envelops.  Steve McQueen’s warning (“Listen!  Listen to me!  Now listen to me, everybody!  This town is in danger.  Now several people have been killed already.  Now, now we had to make this noise, we had to make it so you’d listen to us, so we could warn you.”) fell on deaf ears until in the film’s most famous scene the blob invades Phoenixville, PA’s Colonial Theater, prompting the audience to flee into the street.  The mystique of The Blob is such that the Colonial sponsors an annual Blob Fest that attracts visitors from across the country for a screening and a “run-out” mimicking that in the film.  There is a Cold War element when an old coot hearing sirens retrieves from his closet his Civil Defense helmet.  He is obviously preparing for incoming missiles from the Reds, not a terrifying and deadly mass from space.

First Man Into Space (1959) sounds like a documentary, but of course it was an attempt to make hay from the space race.  (Russia’s Sputnik satellite began orbiting earth in 1957.)  Naturally drama becomes melodrama.  This first American spacefarer is infected after his vehicle courses through a strange cloud.  Encrusted like his capsule, his oxygen-starved body requires copious amounts of blood only obtainable (in the movies) via a killing spree.  But who can forget the poor soul’s final comment, “Sorry things had to happen this way, but I just had to be the first man into space” or Dr. Van Essen’s proclamation that “The conquest of new worlds always makes demands on human life, and there will always be men who will accept the risk.”

Caltiki, The Immortal Monster (1959) climbs from a Mayan pool in this Italian/French co-production co-directed by budding horror maestro Mario Bava (Black Sunday).  Whereas cold foiled the Blob, flame put the kibosh on Caltiki.

Mutiny in Outer Space (1965) covered an expedition into our moon’s caves.  Back on their space station, the explorers soon learn that the deadly fungus found beneath the moon’s surface loves heat and seems intent on finding earth.  Hopefully they can freeze it first.

Quatermass and the Pit (aka Five Million Years to Earth, 1967) was the third of the Professor Quatermass feature films.   However, although there was a pit and a spaceship inside it, its alien creators were not fungi, rather ancient Martians resembling giant locusts or grasshoppers.

The Japanese got into the act again with The Green Slime (1968).  The title is misleading as the slime quickly metamorphoses into ridiculous tentacled monstrosities.  Once again American actors are front and center.  Robert Horton and Richard Jaeckel are joined by bond girl Luciana Paluzzi (Thunderball).

Beware!  The Blob (aka Son of Blob, 1972) is a mix of comedy and drama that sometimes gells into an entertaining film, e.g., the dude raising a crucifix to ward off the oncoming mass, the sheriff looking down at the gunk crawling up his boot and asking, “What?”

Aftermath
 
The Incredible Melting Man (1977) features the title character returned from Saturn with an infection that melts skin and naturally sends him on a flesh-eating spree.

The Stuff (1985) is a seriocomic satire of rampant consumerism in which people eat a substance that returns the favor by ingesting them from the inside out.

The Blob (1988) is a serviceable but now largely forgotten remake of the iconic 1958 film and in essence brought the fungus film subgenre full circle.

Note:  The Slime People (1963) are not slimy, rather crusty and intelligent spear-carrying bipeds that emerge from beneath Los Angeles and encase the city in an impenetrable fog.  The Creeping Terror (1964) is a distinctly low-budget effort with a troubled production that saw it released as a TV movie.

 

References

Hardy, Phil.  The Overlook Film Encyclopedia:  Science Fiction Film.  Overlook Press, 1995, c1984.

Holston, Kim, and Winchester, Tom.  Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film Sequels, Series and RemakesVolume I:  1931-1995.  McFarland & Co., 1997.

Warren, Bill.  Keep Watching the Skies!  American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties.  Volume I:  1950-1957.  Volume II:  1958-1962.  McFarland & Co., 1982, 1986.

By Kim

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New Releases 9/19

Movies
Certain Women
The Hero
The Big Sick
Wonder Woman
The Bad Batch
Nise: The Heart of Madness
Behind White Glasses
By the Time It Gets Dark
The Vietnam War: A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick
Do Not Resist
Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table

T.V. Series
Arrow, Season 5
Code Black, Season 2
Madam Secretary, Season 3
Bates Motel, Season 5
Modern Family, Season 8

Music
Concrete and Gold by Foo Fighters
Different Creatures by Circa Waves
Prophets of Rage by Prophets of Rage
Savage: Songs from a Broken World by Gary Numan
Electric Trim by Lee Ranaldo
Did it for the Party by Big & Rich
Memphis… Yes, I’m Ready by Dee Dee Bridgewater
Walk into a Storm by Lone Bellow
This Is Us Soundtrack
In Full Swing by Seth Macfarlane
Wide Open by Michael McDonald
The Laughing Apple by Yusuf Islam
The Aviary by Galantis

Audiobooks
Haunted by James Patterson & James O. Born
The Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille
Release by Patrick Ness

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New Releases 9/12

Movies
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
Beatriz at Dinner
It Comes at Night
The Mummy
The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble
Girl Flu
I Love You Both
Decline & Fall
The Stopover
The Apology
The Reagan Show
Buena Vista Social Club: Adios
Festival
Germans & Jews
Citizen Jane: Battle for the City

T.V. Series
The Big Bang Theory, Season 10
Scorpion, Season 3
Silicon Valley, Season 4
Veep, Season 6
Orphan Black, Season 5
Broadchurch, Season 3
The Goldbergs, Season 4
Secrets and Lies, Season 1
Empire, Season 3
This Is Us, Season 1

Music
All the Light Above It Too by Jack Johnson
Life Changes by Thomas Rhett
The Bus Songs by Toby Keith
#Update by Yandel
Okovi by Zola Jesus
Every Country’s Sun by Mogwai
Sleep Well Beast by The National
Slowheart by Kip Moore
Mountain Moves by Deerhoof
Native Invader by Tori Amos
The Fellas by Melissa Manchester
Southern Blood by Gregg Allman
Search Party by ¡Mayday!
Hitchhiker by Neil Young
Current Mood by Dustin Lynch

Audiobooks
Enigma by Catherine Coulter

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