Monday, January 5, 2015

Alpha Productions - 25 Years Ago

My friend Leni Gronros reminded me today that it was the winter of 1990 when he and I started down the path that would lead to us running a comic book company. It seems impossible that it's been so long and yet, it feels like an age of the world has gone by since then.

For seven years Alpha Productions published a lot of books - some good, some... not so good. There were only a few of us at first. Leni was Publisher, Paul Pelletier was Art Director, I was an artist then, for a few years, Chief Editor. Christopher Mills came on within a few months and as Production/Promotions Manager he quickly elevated our look and schedule before taking over Editorial. Ron Fortier joined in to write some books and became a Creative Director, Rick Lowell of Casablanca Comics became our Marketing Director.

The comic market imploded in the mid 1990's and eventually Alpha disbanded as well. We've all gone our separate ways, but man - that was something. Those people were something. There were bad times along with the good, but it's all softened by time and distance now - I only really remember the good times: the road trips, the conventions, the all-night zip-a-tone parties to get a book out on time. The joy of holding a book in my hand that I had helped put together.

I left after '93, heading on my own path that included getting married and finishing school, but I wouldn't change those years for anything. I met a lot of good people during that time, some of whom I'm still friends with. I got some books made that I'm proud of. I drew a lot of stuff that I'm less proud of. ;)

I think I'll probably dig into my archives and post a few things from those times - every once and a while, over the course of the year. Just to celebrate a little of that time when I was young and crazy and could do anything.

Twenty five years - man. Forever and a day. And I'd do it all over again.

Friday, January 2, 2015

New Year, New Post - and Some Fear Friday Catch-Up

Man, the last couple of months went by in a blur. November disappeared in the writing frenzy that is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, natch.). A huge chunk of a new novel got typed up during that month, but it'll take a huge amount of editing/rewrites/additions to get it into publishable shape. I'll keep you posted.

December I just sort of crashed. Work was crazy and after 31 Days, 31 Horror Movies and NaNoWrimo I just needed a break. The blog suffered, of course, as blogs are wont to do (and mine in particular). I think I posted once or twice the whole month. 

It's a new year, however, and though I know this is just an arbitrary distinction of time - keeping track of the way our world spins around a star - I still can't help but be caught up in the feeling of renewal. Time to put away the doldrums of 2014 and look forward with glasses newly rose-colored.

That means getting back to Fear Fridays, amongst other things. So I'll be heading back into the Man Cave (though I'll need to heat it up first) and watching a selection of cinematic terrors so I can write a rambling, barely coherent post about it on Friday. It won't always be a Flashback this year - I'll be watching new stuff as well, so those posts will just be tagged #FearFriday.

We'll be getting underway in earnest next week (and hopefully posting a bit more of other things - art, short writing bits, etc.), but I figured I'd start off with a quick overview of some of the movies I've been watching. Yeah, even though I wasn't writing them up, I was still watching horror movies this past month. These'll be short and probably not sweet at all, but after all that holiday candy you don't really need the sugar, do you?

A Netflix rental. I'd heard from a few friends that this was a decent entry into the Nazi Zombie horror movie niche, and that assessment isn't wrong. It's certainly leagues above movies like Zombie Lake and Oasis of the Zombies.

The gist of the plot is thus: a group of hardened mercenaries are hired to escort a corporate scientist to enter a war-torn area of Eastern Europe (I'm not sure where, but I think it was the Balkans somewhere). When they arrive at the designated area they find a World War II era German bunker that was used to conduct horrific occult experiments using a reality altering device. Once night falls lights flood the surrounding woods and the mercenaries start to die, one by one - killed by Nazi soldiers that seemingly cannot be killed.

I like the look of the film quite a bit - there's a certain washed-out grittiness to everything. The acting is fairly good, with some clunkers and no real standouts. The buildup to the first attack, the pale survivor and the weird machine are all nice elements, but once the first night falls and the men are trapped the action takes precedence over the creepiness.

It feels like an okay film that's just a few budget/plot decisions away from being a really good one. I don't think I'd need to see it again, but I'll probably check out the sequels.

I forgot that I'd seen this one already. I watched it because it's a Lovecraft themed film directed by Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator). Unfortunately it's a bit creeky and overly camp in spots, though the sequence in the hotel (more "Shadow Over Innsmouth" than "Dagon" inspired) is pretty damn good.

Cat O'Nine Tails
This is my least favorite of the early Dario Argento films. There's nothing particularly wrong with it, exactly, it's just... too straightforward, too standard a plot and too pedestrian in construction, pacing and cinematography to really catch me like other Argento films. It felt like he was making a studio film and his instincts were being repressed. Add to that a blind Karl Malden - so out of place that he knocked me out of the narrative whenever he was on-screen - and a corporate espionage plot that degenerates into junk genetic science, and the whole thing just left me cold.

Nightbreed: Director's Cut
I read a lot of Clive Barker in the 1980's and really enjoyed it. Cabal, a novella about a guy who dreamed he was a monster who lived in a city of monsters, was  no exception. Unfortunately, the movie - renamed Nightbreed by a studio that also mangled the editing of the film - was a disappointing mess. I liked some of the makeup and thought David Cronenberg made a decent creepy villian, but it lost a lot of the story.
Happy to say that this cut is much better, though it's still so very 80's/early 90's. It is much more faithful to the story and spends a bit more time with Boone (the main character) and in Midian (the city of monsters). There's also a lot more of Lori - Boone's girlfriend - which helps make their relationship feel more real. It's now more like a typical Barker film, with dream-like imagery matched with gore and with monsters being more sympathetic than the humans.

This is one of the better films I've watched recently, with quite a few good scares and some great mood for most of the film. I was unsettled watching the first 2/3rds, which isn't something that often happens to me when watching horror movies.

Ellison, a true-crime writer whose last hit book was a decade ago, moves into a house where a family was brutally murdered. He brings with him his wife Tracy and their children Ashley and Trevor. Ellison hopes to write about the murders and maybe revive his flagging career. On the first night he finds a box of Super-8 films and a projector in the attic. The movies - despite being labeled with innocuous titles like "Pool Party" and "Family Hanging Out" are actually snuff films of families being murdered.

These films provided most of the real unsettled moments for me, as the Super-8 film gives the video a disturbingly realistic feel.

Ellison tries to write his book, connecting the murders on the films with the one that took place in the house. He begins to deteriorate, as does his family. His daughter draws disturbing pictures, his son starts having horrific night terrors. And there are sometimes sounds in the attic.

A supernatural element creeps into the film about a third of the way through and escalates as the story progresses. Unfortunately, the film really seems to lose steam when this starts happening and the ending - though well done - is unsatisfying and nowhere near as horrific as the middle.

Though I found the ending to be a disappointment, I still enjoyed the film as a whole and thought Ethan Hawke did a fantastic job as Ellison.

So, that's it for the films I watched recently. Looking forward to what the New Year brings!